Look inside any restaurant kitchen in the world, chances are there is only one woman in a sea of men. The chances that a woman is heading up the kitchen are even slimmer as the culinary industry is and has been a male dominated space, meaning for a long time the talent of many a woman has been overlooked. It’s hard for women out there, let alone young talented black women. So, as we look back on International Women’s Day on 8 March, it is fitting to celebrate women chefs like Chef Mamaswa Sekete and many more.
We had the opportunity to speak to Chef Mamaswa about food and her journey in the culinary arts. Standing at just 150cm, she is a proud example of young black women pushing the boundaries in the food industry. She has beaten the odds to start her own business, paving the way for other female chefs and inspired a health conscious society by creating ridiculously amazing food.
Following a life of travels and some years learning from chefs around the world, and always upping her food game and continuously studying to sharpen her skills, chef Mamaswa is now based in Johannesburg and living her passion. She breathes and loves what she does, has a passion for people and is an all-round joy.
We wanted to know a little bit more about her source of inspiration for her food creations and had some fun asking questions to find out what some of her interests are and how she got here.
How did you get started in the industry and what made you realise you wanted to work in food?
Once upon a time I was a very picky eater. So when I was 12 years old I decided to try cooking and I loved it. I always found it exciting to create dishes in the kitchen. I knew from then that I wanted to work with food.
Where were you trained, and how difficult was your training?
I am formally trained in the culinary arts. The school I attended was very competitive. Beyond the kitchen, we also had tests and written work such as nutrition, fire training, first aid, business management, and sommelier training. We had a board ranking the top performers of the month. I will unashamedly admit that my name was there quite often.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on in the last year?
In 2018, I’ve started a catering company with someone and I foresee us becoming pretty big so that’s exciting.
Who is the person you most admire in the food industry?
The list is pretty long because I admire different people for their different skills and attitudes.
What is your favourite part about being a Chef?
I love experimenting with flavours. The process of creating a meal is so much fun for me. I also love seeing the feedback from people when they enjoy my food.
What are you most excited about in the coming year?
I’m just excited to cook for a variety of people. I want to spread love through food.
How would you describe your food?
My food changes according to my mood, weather, day etc. I can go from rustic to fine dining when the situation calls for it. There are so many flavours in the world that I’d hate to limit myself. Today may be French-Vietnamese and tomorrow may be North African.
How do you unwind after service?
A glass of delicious white wine and sleep.
What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received from a mentor?
The best advice: don’t sweat the small stuff
I can’t really think of a time but bad advice is only bad advice when you take it.
What are three essential cookbooks on your shelf?
I have many cookbooks. It would feel unfair to the others if I picked three. It’s like saying you have a favourite child.
What is one recipe/ingredient that you struggled to master? How did you overcome the struggle?
It took me a really long time to get meringues down. When I was like 15 I spent a whole month just trying to get them right. I was just force-feeding my family and friends meringues. Practice makes perfect.
What’s your go-to hangover cure/food?
Ice-Cold fruit smoothies.
What’s your guilty pleasure snack while watching your guilty pleasure TV show?
Nougat and unsalted popcorn.
Do you have a secret talent?
What’s your favourite kitchen scare?
I don’t have a favourite but I do have many. I’ve never cut myself severely but my arms and chest are full of burns.
What was your biggest kitchen disaster?
I believe that every time I overcook a prime cut of meat or fish is a disaster.
Favourite way to cook an egg?
What inspires you?
Inspiration can come from many places. I’ve been inspired by a decrepit building, the wind, the smell of freshly cut grass etc. When I’m inspired by something I write it down so that I never forget.