Lentswe Bhengu is back in front of the camera. This time he is a co-judge with Lucia Mthiyane on Mzansi Magic’s KFC Taste Kitchen.
Last year, he co-presented BBC Lifestyle’s The Great South African Bake Off. He also made appearances on Soweto TV’s Kasi Kitchen and SABC 3’s morning show, Expresso. The show that kicked it off, though, was Africa on a Plate – a web series where he combined his business acumen and cooking skills.
From being a co-host in the BBC bake off to being a judge, what was the transition like? “It was quite easy actually. I’m a professional chef, so understanding and critiquing food is something I’m familiar with.“I was always an honours class drama student in high school, so presenting is second nature to me. I also learnt a lot from my co-host Anne Hirsch. I was born to do both really,” he laughs.
Looking at the strides he has made in the food industry, it’s hard to imagine this celebrity chef as an investment banker. He quit the corporate environment six years ago and enrolled in an academy in the Cape Winelands to become a professional chef.
Bhengu took me on a journey to where his love affair with food began.
Lentswe Bhengu. Picture: Supplied
“I’ve always been someone who enjoys entertaining, my father is the greatest entertainer I know. He can take the biggest frown and turn it into a smile, so I get that from him; plus my mom’s kitchen skills – she is an amazing cook.”
Bhengu continues: “Back at varsity, when I was doing my BCom, I used to cook dinners for people. I used to pack lunches and sell them for pocket money”.
The innovative 31-year-old chef comes from a big family. “I have 23 siblings. We share the same father.”
Back to the food, Bhengu gets more serious when talking about his passion.
“It’s about enjoyment of food. My father was an extremely busy man – he never had time for us. But there’s one thing he always had time for, and that was to sit down around the table with his kids. Yes, Mr Busy Man would actually cook for us and entertain us too.”
Aside from his father being his role model, he is also his sounding board.
“I had a meeting with my father. I said ‘Papa, I want to get the same amount of love and enjoyment and serenity that you have for your life. How do you achieve that?’ My father sat me down and said, ‘My child you need to stop doing things that don’t make you happy. If it’s your girlfriend, dump her; if it’s a car you’re driving, trade it in. You must start doing things you are good at, things you love to do.’”
His dad also taught him to be economical with food.
“My dad hated wastage, so there will always be meat or chicken curry left over in the fridge,” says Bhengu. “He grew leeks, vegetables and herbs in the garden and he made a foundation of lots of leeks, some garlic and onions, and he would add in all the food (chicken curry, samp, mince meat) that was left in the fridge.
“My dad would call this concoction ‘Nyula’, which loosely translates to a mixed masala of everything and he would serve that for dinner on the night he was cleaning out the fridge.
“It was always amazing to see how my father would throw three-day-old food from the fridge, combined with today’s breakfast, all into one pot, but still make it damn homey and tasty.”
Bhengu insists that when he cooks, he likes to flip the script and spice things up a little bit.
“And that’s what I’m looking for from the Taste Kitchen contestants.”
* Catch chef Lentswe Bhengu and his co-judge, actress and singer Lucia Mthiyane, together with Bonang Matheba as the hostess on KFC Taste Kitchen, Fridays at 7pm on Mzansi Magic (DStv Channel 161).