Local chef Nthabeleng Meso.
As South Africans, and Africans, we are known for celebrating our continent for its beauty and diverse cultures.

While we have much to celebrate, a lot more can be done to celebrate local cuisine.

Even local chefs agree that local food is the one part of our heritage that is neglected the most.

Local chef Nthabeleng Meso will soon be jetting off to Switzerland to obtain her degree in culinary arts.

The 35-year-old, who hails from Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape, and works at Greenhouse restaurant in Constantia, Cape Town, is as passionate about local cuisine as she is about introducing it to new people - which is exactly what she plans to do in Switzerland.

“When people visit South Africa they always talk about how beautiful the country is, but they don’t talk about how tasty our food is,” she says.

“As Africans and South Africans, we tend to do the same. We travel to other places, we come back and rave about the food in other countries, yet we have our own cuisine here that we don’t appreciate.”

Beans Porridge and Dodo Nigerian Dish Picture: Instagram (Dodo Versity)

Meso was in Grade 3 when she had dreams of becoming a chef, but lost interest near the end of the school career.

It was through her father’s encouragement and hopes to make something of her life, that she enrolled at Capsicum Culinary School.

“I was in Standard 1 when I knew I was going to cook for a living, but at the time I didn’t know much about being a chef,” she giggles.

“I’ve been cooking all my life and when I finished matric my dad encouraged me to (study hospitality), but then I was into computers at the time.

“Ten years later, I wanted to do something different with my life so I signed up with Capsicum Culinary School, so here I am.”

As a child, Meso says she grew up eating “natural food, from cow’s milk to freshly slaughtered cows and even chicken which we caught ourselves”.

“Here in the city everyone is talking about organic food, what is organic food? It is up to us to teach and show people what we have.

“A lot of times the perception of traditional food is considered to be the kind of food that poor people eat, but it doesn’t have to end there.

“I work at Greenhouse (a fine dining restaurant) and we serve pap here. As chefs and Africans, we do have a role to play in making sure our food is celebrated just as much as other foods.”

Ethiopian platter Picture Instagram (Addis in Cape)

She admits a lot more needs to be done to promote local cuisine in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

“I believe it is up to us the young, upcoming chefs, who get to travel, to teach the world about our food and earn it the respect that it deserves,” she says.

“The fact that there are so many different cultures within our country makes it richer and even more special. It’s important to embrace other cultures. African doesn’t just mean black.

“Different foods are made differently in other parts of the country. The food is there, we just need to be more creative.”

Meso says some of her local favourites dishes include samp, wholewheat steam bread, pap and potjiekos.

During her time in Europe, Meso says she hopes to teach her new peers the importance of African food culture. “I want them to know our food culture is just as important and multifaceted, just like our languages.

“Food in Africa forms the base of every traditional celebration.”