/ 27 June 2024

Exploring African cuisine with chef Vusi Ndlovu at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda

Ctl1390 2 Min
Chef Ndlovu believes there is much African cuisine that remains unexplored. Photo supplied

The National Arts Festival is well underway in Makhanda, Eastern Cape and it’s been an exhilarating experience so far. 

Upon my arrival last week, I was greeted by an unexpected delight — an invitation to dine at 1862, Standard Bank’s pop-up restaurant. 

Named after the year the bank was founded, this temporary establishment is run by the renowned chef Vusi Ndlovu. 

The culinary experience was curated by Fresh Yumm, led by Mandlakazi Pantshwa and Absie Pantshwa, and the fine-dining team from Edge Africa, under the guidance of Ndlovu. 

We were immediately drawn to the African-inspired menu. Ujeqe (steamed bread), Zamalek broth, chicken yassa, and egusi were just a few of the standout dishes. 

Ndlovu designed it to highlight and celebrate African ingredients, a mission he is passionate about. 

“African artists, music and fashion are thriving but African food is still finding its place on the global stage,” he said. “We know dishes like jollof and egusi but there’s so much more to African cuisine that remains unexplored. My goal is to package and elevate these ingredients.”

A few days later, I had the opportunity to sit down with chef Ndlovu to delve deeper into his culinary journey and philosophy. 

He shared a pivotal moment from 2016 when he was working at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Belgium. 

“At this restaurant, we had staff meals every Saturday and each of us had to prepare something from our hometown. When it was my turn, I felt lost and ended up making a chicken curry. 

“That moment made me realise I needed to dig deeper into my roots and challenge myself to truly represent African cuisine,” he recounted. 

This marked the beginning of Ndlovu’s exploration of African ingredients. 

“I discovered a wealth of flavours and ingredients that felt both familiar and revolutionary. 

“Despite having cooked for 15 years, it feels like I’m doing something new for the first time,” he said, with a smile. 

Despite his sophisticated culinary creations, Ndlovu prefers simplicity at home. 

“The simpler, the better. I spend all day thinking about and preparing complex dishes. When I’m home, I don’t want to overthink my meals.” 

His breakfast is often simple oats, and dinner might be as straightforward as chicken stew with rice. 

Ndlovu finds joy in meals prepared by others, especially on tough days. 

“There’s something special about enjoying a meal someone else has cooked, particularly when things haven’t gone as planned in the kitchen,” he said. 

Looking ahead, Ndlovu has exciting plans. 

“Next year, we aim to establish a permanent home for our fine-dining restaurant Edge,” he revealed, hinting at even more extraordinary culinary adventures to come. 

The National Arts Festival has proved to be a melting pot of creativity and culture, with Ndlovu championing the rich and diverse flavours of African cuisine.