Africa on a Plate was a launching pad for Bhengu to show the world his passion for African cuisine. He says there is no other chef who has researched or tried to make a big deal about African cuisine as he has.
“South African black chefs would rather cook the Italian, the French because it looks better, it’s sexy and it sells quicker. The harder job here is to sell our own because, first, we need to understand our own and no one has researched African or South African cuisine like I have.
“I had a show to research African cuisine, and I’ve researched by going to those places and understanding those stories.
“That’s a story on its own that needs to be told,” says the 32-year-old who will be flying the South African culinary flag high at the 48th annual World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland this week.
Bhengu hosts dinners in Durban using food from different countries which is what got him noticed, but he says it’s his niche as an African cuisine maestro that landed him the deal.
“I’ve made South Africa or African cuisine my business. I’m not playing in Italian; I’m not playing in Chinese. I wanna really uplift African cuisine and African culture to a level where we see Western cuisine or modern cuisine at the same level as ours.
“I invited Brand South Africa for a dinner in Durban. I give these dinners where there are four to five different countries.
Each course is a different country so I’ve invited them over to enjoy that dinner, and I’ve invited them here in Joburg for a quainter dinner with other people and they’ve absolutely loved it. They’ve wanted that kind of flavour for Davos.”
The former investment banker hung up his suits for an apron seven years ago, and he says his relationship with food is nostalgic. Food makes him happy because it takes him back to a happy memory when he was young.
“I think food should always do that. It should always take you somewhere. It takes you to a place you want to go to, or it takes you to a place where it’s really happy and you reminisce.
“I grew up in a big family and one of the ways our father could bring order was around meal times, where we all had chores to do. We all got involved in it, and for me that was a happy moment. I never saw my dad much. He was always too busy but I knew meal time was ours.”
Bhengu will be serving a three-course meal Mzansi-style this week. He says he will get off with a starter that he calls breakfast - rosti spinach on sweet potato, topped with chakalaka, a soft poached egg and some carrot purée.
For the main, it’s samp risotto: “Boil it and add salt and then add bones. We are now taking it to another level.
“We cook it with white wine. Start boiling it in stock as opposed to boiling it in water. While it’s simmering all that water soaking in the flavours - right at the end, add loads of Parmesan cheese, lots of butter, some wild mushrooms and some veggies.
“Dessert is literally my favourite to make. If you go to my fridge now, there is vetkoek mixture of some sort that’s frozen.
There is custard and there is vanilla ice cream but we South Africans love vetkoek - small, dusted with cinnamon sugar on the outside and inside we pipe it with a dolce latte.
"Dolce is Italian for sweet and latte is milk - we are going to infuse that sweet milk with rooibos tea bags.”