Kasi food lifted to new heights

Kasi cooking: Chef Katlego Mlambo has a deep love for traditional South African food. (Supplied)

Kasi cooking: Chef Katlego Mlambo has a deep love for traditional South African food. (Supplied)

The streetwise food series Kasi-licious is hosted by the Johannesburg-raised chef Katlego Mlambo (25), who is currently chef de partie at Rust en Vrede in Stellenbosch. As a youngster, Mlambo first realised his passion for food when he travelled through Europe and Southeast Asia.

His deep love for traditional South African food landed him second spot in the Sunday Times Chef of the Year competition in 2012.

In the programme, Mlambo is inspired by his guests to visit informal street food venues, community food hang-outs and small independent eateries, all of which feature ­traditional South Africa and African-style cuisine.

The team also travels to fishing villages and late-night city snack joints, where they explore regional styles and cultural and ethnic specialities.

Tell us about the format of the tele­vision series Kasi-licious in which you star.
The entire series takes your "kasi" meals that you find in the township and brings them back to my kitchen where they get given some body and some life. So it's taking the foundation of the food and sprucing it up a bit.

Do you think that township food needs to be spruced up?
To be honest, not really. I still think my granny is the best cook in the world. I have been in the industry for about five years and I tell you this lady can cook.

But I think there's a stigma behind it, where people think it's not elegant enough because it seems quite simple. But I think that, with a couple of different ingredients and a different method of preparing the food, your simple food can be elevated through the roof. By wrapping beetroot in foil and baking it, you elevate it to the next level.

Who do you hope is going to be the audience for the series? And what do you hope they will get out of it?
My target audience would be between the ages of 18 to the age of young professionals. And I hope the series will show them that there's fine food everywhere. You don't have to go to the 'burbs to eat good food.

It will hopefully also show them that in the township you do get good food that has been prepared with a bit of love.

You work in a professional environment. Tell us about the difference between working-class food and these incredibly upper-end dishes you prepare.
The difference is a lot of hard work. The carrots at the township stall, for example, were roughly chopped but we in the industry would have to cut all the carrots to one perfect size.

It's time consuming but, at the end of the day, what you put in is what you get out. I go in to work in the morning and prepare the whole day to only serve 30 to 45 people at night.

What does Rust en Vrede specialise in and what does it do that's good?
The chef, John Shuttleworth, is super-awesome. He is classically trained and so the mentality is to give the food the love and respect it deserves. We specialise in good clean food and what you see is what you get. Your beans are going to be beans, cooked perfectly.

You have done some travelling and won some awards. What's the toughest thing you have had to prepare?
One of the things that's so simple to cook yet so hard is a pig's head. The cheeks are very prized and you have got to treat those with respect. The last thing you want to do is rapidly boil the head because the meat will be soft but it won't be as tender as you want it. So the head can go for 20 hours, and, while you cook it gently, that's when the flavour is building. You want to give it all the love it deserves.

One rule I live by is that every day is a school day – you learn something new every single day.

You're in Cape Town, which is a better food environment than Jo'burg. Where do you enjoy going?
I like to eat at Tasha's. The food is simple but the flavours are bold. The branch I often go to is in Constantia. It has got a beautiful outside area. Most of my life I'm trapped in a kitchen so as soon as I get a chance I like to be out and about.

What do you hate?
I'm not a fan of brussels sprouts. When I was young, my granny used to force me to eat them.

What do you listen to?
Internationally, I'm really enjoying Drake and Trey Songz. Locally, I'm a big fan of house music. I used to be a dancer. Black Coffee is playing on my iPod at the moment, and DJ Cleo, DJ Euphonik.

Other chefs in the world?
Gordon Ramsay is ahead of the game. And another chef I look up to is Grant Achatz, who has a beautiful restaurant in Chicago called Alinea. He had cancer of the mouth and couldn't taste anything.

But cooking is all about using your other senses so he literally used his eyes, hearing and feeling and he would come up with dishes. And his sous chef would do the tasting for him.

Where are you going to be in 10 years' time?
I see being a chef as being an artist and the plate is your canvas.

I would like to own my own restaurant, cook good food and hopefully have a cookbook out. I have so many ideas in my head that I would like to share with the world.


Kasi-licious, Mondays at 6pm on channel eKasi+

Matthew Krouse

Matthew Krouse

Matthew Krouse is the arts editor of the Mail & Guardian, a position he has held since 1999. He has edited two anthologies: Positions (Steidl, Jacana Media 2010) about artists engaging with politics in South Africa today, and The Invisible Ghetto (GMP, 1994) a compilation of creative writing about gender. His essays have appeared in collected works about arts and culture here and abroad. He has worked in the theatre for over a decade as an actor, writer and senior publicist at the Market Theatre. Read more from Matthew Krouse


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