But when celebrity chef Sibahle Mtongana walks into the Italian restaurant where we’re meeting, she seems to be floating on a layer of airy meringue mixture. Talking to her, I realise that she’s sustained by her love of food.
“From a very young age I’ve wanted to have a job that I would always enjoy. That’s why I did a Food and Consumer Sciences degree,” she says.
Mtongana worked as a technikon tutor before becoming food editor at Drum magazine. She then hosted Cooking With Siba on Mzansi Magic. Currently, the first season of Siba’s Table is being beamed to more than 60 million households in the US.
What underscores her continued rave reviews?
“God!” she enthuses, before being distracted by the multi-flavoured ice cream and sorbets on offer. “God is the one who lifts me into the positions I find myself in. Far better chefs than me and people that I look up to have been trying for years to make it on Food Network. But they have just not been succeeding, and now here I am.
“A lot of people think that I’m too modest, but I’m not being modest when I say that we all work hard. Still it’s not all of us who get such opportunities. I really thank God for opening doors that are just unimaginable. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!”
Siba’s Table is more than just a cooking show. It’s not just about Ntongana. Her graphic designer husband Brian, extended family, friends and Cape Town’s scenic views all share the limelight.
“The Food Network producers simply fell in love with Lonwabo, our 18-month-old son, who was meant to only be in one episode . He might as well brag he has his own show,” laughs Ntongana.
“Family has always played an important part in my life, from when my mom used to have a garden where I would fetch blackberries and vegetables for her to turn into scrumptious dishes, to now, where I cook for loved ones. Basically, Siba’s Table is my life and there are a few guys with cameras that record it all,” she says.
Mtongana isn’t very “chef-like”: she’s nowhere close to growing a pot belly and she skips entrées so that she can have dessert. Also, she doesn’t use complicated Italian cooking phrases or make her guests feel like they know nothing about food.
Still, TV being TV, how can viewers know she can cook?
“The only way is to check my track record and from that deduce that all the people I have worked for would not have allowed me to be in charge if I did not know what I was doing,” she giggles.
“After exposure to the science of food, developing and testing fool-proof recipes for magazines and two rather successful TV shows… A number of people describe me as a ‘subject matter’ expert. I can definitely cook,” she says. – email@example.com