Meet Mzansi’s top chefs

Mmabatho Molefe. Picture: Supplied

Mmabatho Molefe. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 26, 2022


Cooking is an art, and chefs know it best. These chefs can add taste to any bland dish. Their game of ingredients always remains on point.

From experimenting with varied ingredients and cooking a mouth-watering meal to mixing two cuisines and creating their own signature dish – they know how to do it. The top chefs of South Africa understand that the art of cooking is intricate.

Each dish made by them is sure to give you a gastronomical experience like never before. They come up with something that not only soothes your taste buds but remains with you for a long, long time.

Dear foodies, we have rounded up some of the best chefs in Mzansi. Make sure you try eating at least one dish made by them.

Mmabatho Molefe. Picture: Supplied

Mmabatho Molefe

Mmabatho Molefe is the head chef and owner of Emazulwini Restaurant, which is situated at the V&A Waterfront’s Makers Landing.

Hailing from Nagina near Mariannhill in KwaZulu-Natal, Molefe started her restaurant to give people a taste of what “Zulu food could be if you re-imagined it”.

She found a niche in fine dining, showcasing the Nguni culture. Emazulwini Restaurant was opened in 2020 after she lost her job in the restaurant industry due to the pandemic.

Molefe uses African ingredients which have been "forgotten about" but are now being sourced from several markets. She also believes in eating sustainably and shows that all cuts of meat can be eaten, from head to tail.

Although her father is part Zulu and part Sesotho, she realised that she knew very little about her Sotho heritage, and it was Zulu cuisine that she related to.

Molefe started cooking before the age of twelve, and she and her sister often used to watch the cooking show “Ready. Steady. Cook”.

She did consumer science in high school, where she further developed her love for creating meals. However, a career in the food industry was never on the cards, and after school, she studied politics and law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

During her fifth and final year, she realised that writing five anthropology essays for a single module was not her cup of tea and quit to go to culinary school.

Earlier this year, Emazulwini won the African Restaurant of the Year title at the 4th annual Luxe Restaurant Awards.

In June, she was also named one of the greatest hospitality pioneers on The World's 50 Best’s 50 Next list.

Lentswe Bhengu. Picture: Lentswe Bhengu/Instagram

Lentswe Bhengu

Lentswe Bhengu is a celebrity chef and television personality known for his appearances on several food-themed shows.

Born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal, Bhengu always expressed a keen interest in food and dining.

He has been cooking since he was eight years old, following his mother around the kitchen. In 2010, Bhengu exchanged his suit and tie for a chef jacket when he enrolled at the prestigious The Culinary Academy in the Cape Winelands.

After graduating, he quickly made a name for himself in the culinary scene, whipping up memorable creations in the kitchens of some of the finest restaurants.

Pretty soon, his talent and passion for cooking opened new doors, one of which saw him embark on a journey to uncover the different tastes of Africa.

Bhengu is a food festival, event and expo regular and has had some of his work commissioned abroad.

Kamini Pather. Picture: Kamini Pather/Instagram

Kamini Pather

Kamini Pather is a chef, food blogger, and television and radio personality. Pather rose to fame when she won the second season of MasterChef South Africa in 2013 and has hosted the food travel series Girl Eat World.

She learned to cook in her grandmother’s kitchen in Mobeni Heights in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, where she grew up and where her family used to meet for Sunday lunch.

When Pather matriculated from Durban Girls’ College, she was unsure of what to do and decided to study a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, something she said she would never regret because of the knowledge gained about the business world.

But she always felt something was missing. In her first year, she started messing around with eggs, and she would Google recipes, trying to make more complex dishes, and the rest was history. In 2017, Pather released a kitchenware line, Kitchen Kulture.

In 2018, she collaborated with South African meal kit service UCOOK and went on to launch Füdy, her own plant-based dark kitchen, and early last year, Pather released Eat Glocal, an e-book on Indian South African cooking.

Kobus Van der Merwe. Picture: Kobus Van der Merwe/Instagram

Kobus Van der Merwe

With inspirational dishes like crispy baked kiesieblaar and wild sage smoked angelfish, chef Kobus Van der Merwe has become renowned for his culinary skills.

Van der Merwe’s high standards have set a new paradigm within the award-winning restaurant Wolfgat that he owns.

Born in the Kalahari, his story is an inspiring one of someone who fought against all odds to follow his passion of becoming a professional chef and restaurateur.

The award-winning Wolfgat has a string of awards under its belt. Van der Merwe’s culinary career started with a bit of a detour, as he first freelanced as a journalist and then worked in digital media for a few years.

He arrived in Paternoster in the Western Cape in 2009 for a gap year, and now, twelve years later, he runs one of the best restaurants in the world.

Van der Merwe did not begin to cook seriously until he was thirty. He forages every day for ingredients on the wild Atlantic shore of the Western Cape near his Wolfgat restaurant, where he also makes his own bread and butter.

Wolfgat opened its doors in September 2016. The restaurant is famous for using locally sourced ingredients.

Van der Merwe’s passion for food and the way he prepares it, plus the service and exclusivity, has made it an attraction for food lovers.

Mokgadi Itsweng. Picture: Supplied

Mokgadi Itsweng

Raised in Mamelodi in Pretoria, Mokgadi Itsweng studied law and then advertising. But it was while working a catering job as a side hustle that she realised her true passion.

Following her dreams, Itsweng packed her bags and escaped to New York, where she worked at the legendary South African restaurant Madiba in Brooklyn and studied at Peter Kump’s cooking school.

She returned to Johannesburg in 2001 and cut her teeth as a chef, ultimately opening her own restaurant, Lotsha Kitchen and Cocktails, four years later.

Itsweng has recently released a cookbook called “Veggielicious”, in which she has reworked South African recipes with plant-forward passion.

She describes the cookbook as a “plant-based offering from the garden of my dreams”.

Vanessa Marx. Picture: Vanessa Marx/Instagram

Vanessa Marx

Vanessa Marx is an award-winning chef with diverse experience. Trained at the prestigious Institute of Culinary Arts (ICA) in Stellenbosch, Marx completed her apprenticeship in 2006 under now-famous MasterChef SA judge Pete Goffe-Wood. She prides herself on a sustainable and ethical approach to food.

The philosophy that Marx brings to the table is one of using local and seasonal produce, as well as creating dishes that speak to the seasons.

She worked passionately on the creation of Dear Me Restaurant in 2009 and developed a nine-course food and wine pairing menu at The White Room.

With a string of accolades and media hype behind her name, Marx is a chef who is leaving her mark on the food and beverage industry, one plate at a time.