Xoliswa Ndoyiya is a name that some may not know, however, former president Nelson Mandela holds a special place in her heart. She was the personal chef of the first democratically elected president of South Africa for 18 years.
In light of Women’s Month, Ndoyiya was excited about the opening of Sanctuary Mandela – the former politician’s residence in Houghton Estate which has been turned into a boutique hotel.
Launched on 1 August, accommodation includes nine curated rooms, a bar, heated pools, conference rooms and a menu consisting of Mandela’s favourite meals, designed by Ndoyiya.
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Sanctuary Mandela held a question and answer session with Ndoyiya, in which she spoke on the special relationship between her and Mandela.
Q&A with Ndoyiya
Question: Where did your career journey begin and how did you end up cooking for former president Nelson Mandela?
Answer: My journey began from school doing Home Economics. Then continued to Johannesburg when I started working at the Coronation Hotel where the old age Jewish people were staying. I started working with Mr Mandela in 1992 due to a friend of mine trusting my cooking. She introduced me to Mr Mandela. He had a brief interview with me, asked me my clan name and that’s when I got the job.
Q: How did you learn to cook — did you have someone teach, mentor, and guide you to becoming a personal chef to a president?
A: I was mentored at the Coronation Hotel but if I had to mention a mentor, it would be my mother and grandmother. My mother was a domestic worker and before she went to work she would take out what I needed to prepare. By the time she came home, the food would be ready.
Q: What was Tata’s favourite meal and has there ever been a point in your career when you found it difficult to make any meals for him?
A: Tata was easy to please, the only thing he didn’t like was oil in his food. His favourite food was Oxtail stew and Umngqusho.
Q: What advice would you give to young women looking to achieve success similar to yours?
A: If this is your calling and you feel like it’s your passion then you must do it with all your heart. It has to come from love and you must do it to your level best.
Q: In your experience, does a chef have to use expensive and sophisticated ingredients in order to make very tasty meals?
A: Taste comes in different ways, some believe it’s the ingredients you use. I believe the good flavour comes from my love for food and how I cook food with love. I always cook with love.
Q: Tell us about Tata’s love for traditional recipes.
A: Tata loved tripe so much I always kept some for him for the next day because he would ask for it again. We once had to “smuggle “ one of his favourites into London while he was travelling.
Q: What is your fondest memory of Tata?
A: His love and how he cared for people. How he makes you feel in his presence. It was natural for him. He would make you feel like you are not just part of the staff but part of his family. He also taught me how to never give up.
Q: What do you think of Sanctuary Mandela, and what is your hope for the Residence?
A: For me personally this place is a dream come true. When I first saw it while it was deteriorating I always thought that something could be done here, especially for the kind of people that used to get comforted here by him.
Tata gave a lot and in my own words, I’d say success is not what you accumulate in your lifetime, it’s what you give to people, the smile that you give to people every day when they hear your name. I think to me it’s the best thing Tata gave to people.