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Cape Town - International lifestyle channel Food Network is going local, having signed up Cape Town chef Sibahle Mtongana to star in her own cooking series which will start shooting early next year.
And on the menu, promises Mtongana, will be traditional dishes such as umfino (wild leaves) in maize meal, or creamy pap and maas, with which she plans to tantalise the tastebuds of TV viewers in 85 countries.
The signing of Mtongana by the network, on DStv’s channel 185, makes her the second South African chef to be featured.
Known as Siba, Mtongana is also the channel’s first black South African to feature on such a show. She follows in the footsteps of another Cape Town chef, Jenny Morris, whose show Jenny Morris Cooks Morocco airs on Mondays.
Mtongana is already something of a TV veteran after starring in the Mzansi Magic show Cooking with Siba.
“We have from now until next year to discuss what we will do. It will have to be something I am happy with. We haven’t had a chance to sit down yet.
“I can say that it will be shot in Cape Town and will surround me,” she said.
The soon-to-be new mother added that the as-yet-untitled show would be different from Cooking with Siba.
“Wow. This is awesome news,” she said about being selected. “People only dream about things like this. I am grateful. I know this is going to demand hard work from me, so I am going to give 200 percent and do my country proud.”
Mtongana is a former food editor at Drum magazine, and holds a degree in food and consumer science, majoring in food science and nutrition.
With her degree, she decided to make her passion for food her career, she said.
She joked that when she started at Drum as an assistant food editor she sometimes found that she was the only black person at food media launches.
“I had never seen colour as an issue [but] there are few black food writers and editors. I was trained by You and Huisgenoot food editor Carmen Niehaus, whom I read from a younger age. So I was comfortable.”
Mtongana hails from the East London township of eMdantsane, but has been living in Cape Town for the past 10 years. She said she was recruited by the Food Network after judging an event for the channel, along with Morris.
“Jenny [Morris] was scouting. She said she thought I was perfect for the job. Cooking with Siba has screened overseas, so people could see what I do. It was not a process. It was destiny playing its part. I always dream big.”
Mtongana, who is nine months pregnant, joked that she expected to “pop at any time”, and that her eating patterns had definitely changed – she was craving Mexican tortillas and Thai green prawn curry.
“I get tired quickly, so I make things that are nice and convenient. People say I don’t feed my husband, Brian. He is tall and skinny. I say he has a fast metabolism,” she quipped.
She’s adamant, however, that the arrival of her baby will not affect her career.
“The baby will be three or four months old when we start shooting, and I will have sufficient help at home from my family. I feel like I’m having two babies – Food Network and my baby.”
Mtongana says that,
for the convenience of European audiences, she will give alternative suggestions for ingredients, like polenta instead of mealie meal.
“I am going to introduce me and my heritage, but I do know this is going out in many countries. I have to think about what they can use instead, and use their staples.”
Nick Thorogood, senior vice-president of content and marketing at Food Network, said Mtongana fitted the bill of fresh, new SA talent.
“She’s dynamic, passionate about food, and audiences love her…
“We will work closely with Siba to deliver a fun and entertaining series on Food Network that will inspire and delight foodies and non-foodies alike,” he said.