Celebrity chef, author and businesswoman Siba Mtongana is on cloud nine. And she has every right to be. Aside from being appointed as the culinary director for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s inaugural dinner last month, Food Network gave her the cooking show she’s been dying to host for several years.
Yes, she’s back on TV with Siba’s Adventures Johannesburg.
As lively as ever, Mtongana says: “It’s something I’ve been pitching for three years. I felt like we had done quite a lot in Cape Town.
Remember, this is the fourth season, with too many seasons in between of "Siba’s Table" or something Siba-related.
“I definitely wanted to do something that also showcased another part of the country. And, at the time, I was noticing the food scene in Johannesburg.” The more it grew, the greater her hunger to do the show and explore the growing trend. Also, it provided her with the perfect opportunity to marry two passions: travel and food.
“When you come to Cape Town, the food is the hero, and everything is centred around the food. And you get a whole lot more fine dining restaurants than you would in Johannesburg. And it is never just about the food but about the place, too.
The latter statement refers mostly to the location. Spending a substantially larger amount of time outside the kitchen proved to be a compelling departure for the celebrity chef, who put her infectious personality to great use.
“I wanted to showcase the entrepreneurial spirit in Johannesburg and also the vibe, the beauty and the experience of dining in the city.” She adds: “In Johannesburg, it’s about the food as well as the location of the establishment. I wanted to expose that to locals when they arrived for business or a holiday. And I wanted people abroad to take notice and use it as a tool to help boost tourism.”
For "Siba’s Adventures Johannesburg", a six-part series, she chose her favourite food spots, many of which are off the beaten track. Of course, there were plenty more choices from that three-year list she’s been jotting down. But she opted to explore the hidden gems and trendy new spots, à la Marble Restaurant in Rosebank.
“It’s an eclectic mix of people who are really changing the food scene in Johannesburg. There are also guys who do food trucks in the middle of Sandton, in an office space. They only do it around lunchtime. Not everyone knows about them, so I’m giving them a voice so people can visit them.
“And I go to Soweto, walking the famous Vilakazi street.”
True to her word, she explores a few restaurants that never made it onto the radar of tourists. She also couldn’t help singing the praises of Mash Braai House in Fourways. "If you want traditional ethnic food, you would go to the township.
Now, you can go to a suburb to get it, which is what’s beautiful about this place. The good is everywhere,” she says, with plenty of smiles. Although much time is spent tasting and interacting with engaging owners, she doesn’t leave viewers empty-handed or frustrated – she balances the insight gleaned on different cuisines with one of her recipes.
The more she spoke, the more I salivated, especially when she revealed how she stumbled upon a nice Asian restaurant in Linden.
“It’s a place you wouldn’t necessarily consider as a place to go into.
But the food – omigosh – it is so amazing.” Through the show, viewers, especially the foodies, will learn how to select the ideal street food spot to enjoy. Mtongana encourages everyone to appreciate it. As the street food culture scene rises, so too does the celebrity chef’s desire to soak it all up for viewers. And so the adventure remains in motion.
"Siba’s Adventures Johannesburg" airs on Food Network (DStv channel 175) on Thursdays at 7pm.