Nti Ramaboa has caused something of a stir this year with her cookbook, My African Kitchen. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so on these pages we give you a taste of what’s inside, and catch up with chef Nti about cooking on camera, catering for a crowd, and her enduring love for maize meal.
Mail & Guardian: It’s been a big year for you. Following your success as a chef, entrepreneur and cookbook author this year, are you celebrating this December?
Nti Ramaboa: It’s been an amazing year overall, and yes, I am planning to celebrate BIG! I’ll be spending time with my family around Christmas to celebrate this huge milestone — my cookbook. And I’m going to travel the continent for more celebrations with friends.
M&G: As someone who’s cooked on camera, for restaurant guests, and in every situation in between, do you ever still find times where you’re under pressure in the kitchen?
NR: Oh, absolutely. With food I feel like you’re as good as your last plate; each time I cook I’m always stressing about flavours, texture, presentation — and it gets worse when I’m cooking in front of the camera. I’ve learnt to make friends with the feeling of being under pressure. It helps me to stay present, aware and in the moment.
M&G: You’re a big fan of maize. Could you tell us more about why you love this ingredient?
NR: I’m obsessed with maize meal! Growing up it was on the menu at least four times a week, but we only had it one way: boiled! I love to play around and show people that we can do so much more with it. It’s so versatile, like the Italian polenta — it’s the same grain, after all. My ultimate goal is to help instil a sense of pride for this versatile ingredient that unites us all as a nation.
M&G: Do you still cook for yourself and others over the holidays?
NR: To be honest, not as much as I’d like to: because I cook for a living, I find that I love the idea of others cooking for me. It’s such a treat!
M&G: Professionally, you’ve catered for thousands. What do you make when you’re catering for a crowd at home?
NR: When I’m catering for a crowd at home, I always make it extra special, I go all out! Because, for one, they expect it, and it makes my heart warm to be able to express love like that. I make food the star: I feed them from when they arrive and then make sure there are treats to go as well. On a good day, I’ll serve anything from a six- to eight-course meal.
M&G: Food posts on social media are divisive, though they’ve won most people over, slowly but surely. As a chef and someone with a significant following, do you feel that social media has changed the way we cook?
NR: Oh absolutely, it has definitely changed the way we cook and eat. It’s all about appearances: your plate must look appealing, so you find home cooks making an effort. Social media has made the dialogue around food bigger, and more on-trend. Because of social media, chefs today are part of mainstream entertainment.
M&G: The images of desserts in your book are especially mouth-watering. What’s one recipe that can tempt even someone who’s not a “sweet” person?
NR: Easy: the Almond and Coconut Flan! It’s not too sweet, and the coconut adds to the texture.
M&G: What’s your ultimate food gift?
NR: Anything from the heart — the heart of the home — the kitchen. Anything homemade appeals to the foodie in me. Homemade cookies, brittles, jams and more.