Chef Thabo Phake in a scene from ’House of Chefs’
Chef Thabo Phake in a scene from ’House of Chefs’

’House of Chefs’ is ’Top Chef’ with an African edge and showcases the beauty of African cuisine

By Buhle Mbonambi Time of article published Sep 12, 2021

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Top Chef has been one of the most popular reality TV competitions for close to two decades and it’s because it has a simple premise – be the best chef on the show. Well, we now have a similar concept, one that is purely African.

House of Chefs, hosted by Ugandan TV host Sheila Gashumba, with Siba Mtongana as the judge, sees young chefs from across the African continent cook up a storm to earn a coveted internship at Mtongana’s restaurant. The audience will get to witness the build-up to the prestigious internship and cash prize on the new African lifestyle channel, Honey TV (DStv 173), on Fridays at 9pm.

From the minute it was announced that he was taking part, South Africa’s Chef Thabo Phake was always going to be the biggest threat on the show, mainly because he has chosen instead to leave his home country and work at a restaurant in Abuja, Nigeria. That has given him an edge, especially the experience of cooking for a country with a distinct cuisine and a culture different to his own.

With the show in its fourth week and rivalries already set, we spoke to the chef about his experience on the show and how House of Chefs helps to promote African cuisine.

Does the show being shot in South Africa give you a bit more confidence in the kitchen compared to the other chefs?

Honestly, it was more nerve-racking due to the pressure because people would automatically expect me to have an easy advantage as the competition is homebound. To be quite honest, I didn’t feel like I had a certain advantage over the other chefs because I’m based and have spent the past 3 years of my life in Abuja and the other chefs are also talented. My main challenge on the show was dealing with the pressure of executing great food and at the same time dealing with the drama and tension that was in the house.

Did being based in another country, with a whole different food scene and cuisine, give you an edge over your competitors?

Most definitely it does, as the competition is focused on an African theme and me experiencing both South African and Nigerian culture automatically gives me an edge over everyone else. But I am mostly excited about the level of expertise shown. I particularly loved seeing what the chef from Ghana, Joseph Odoom, had to offer.

You won the challenge on the second episode and you broke down. What was it about the spice challenge that was so important for you?

It wasn’t about winning the spice challenge for me, it was more about the moment the win came because it was pivotal to my mental health at the time. I was going through depression and that win reminded me of who I am and what I’m capable of as a chef, because I had forgotten my capacity as a result of previous mental abuse from my past relationship.

Do you believe the show exposes more people to the different cuisines of the continent?

Most definitely it does, the team challenges helped everybody to learn from each other. There are dishes that I learnt how to cook better. For instance, I now know how to cook Jollof rice because of Tobe Onyenyeonwu, the Nigerian contestant on the show.

Would you do a show like House of Chefs again?

I would definitely do it again and wouldn’t change a thing or do anything different. I would still be the passionate, emotional person I was during the show, same confidence as always and drive.

This article first appeared in Sunday Insider, September 12, 2021

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