Like cream, Katlego Mlambo rises to the top

22 May 2019 - 15:26
By Londiwe Dlomo
Chef Katlego Mlambo
Chef Katlego Mlambo

Contained energy. That's the first thing that comes to mind when seeing chef Katlego Mlambo. He's bubbly, boisterous and articulate.

Among the 30-year-old's many feats is that he designed the menu for the Mandela USA 100 Year tribute event hosted by Barack Obama which took place in Washington DC this year.

"It was very challenging and amazing going to DC. Everything fell into place on a lovely evening. There were about 500 people, it was really wild. I got to meet Barack Obama, which was one of those star-struck moments. Wow, his energy, his aura! "Mlambo gushes.

Mlambo says he grew up around women that cook, proclaiming that of all the food he's tasted in the world, his grandmother's food is his favourite because it's cooked with love.

An only child, Mlambo is a self-proclaimed perfectionist.

Some of the rare  images   gracing the walls of Marabi Club, giving the venue that old time look.
Some of the rare images gracing the walls of Marabi Club, giving the venue that old time look.

"I warm up like a good cup of tea, it's amazing what it can do for you. So, when you catch me on a good day I'll tick all your boxes. I'm just someone who's trying to be a good human being." Mlambo says.

Mlambo jokingly proclaims that as a chef he'll have a job forever as people will always need to eat.

"We all love food, food caters for our every mood... being able to touch people's lives by cooking an amazing dish is quite spectacular."

The industrious Eldorado Park homeboy, matriculated from King Edward VII School, then packed his bags and went off to London, for two years, where he worked odd jobs such as waiting on tables while saving up for chef school.

Cocktails are made as per  your order
Cocktails are made as per your order

Having saved enough from his work abroad, he came back to study at Silwood School of Cookery in Cape Town, the city in which he would spend 10 years before making the big move to return to Joburg to become the head chef of the Marabi Club, a jazz establishment in the inner city.

In 2015 he worked in Vermont, USA, at the Pitcher Inn and tasted the best of foods. He regales with a story of how he dined like a king one night and was reduced to tears.

"I cried for two reasons; firstly, the bill came and it was $700 per person, secondly, I had this one course that blew me away and brought back all my childhood memories. And also, by eating I was picking up concepts that one day I'd like to utilise when running my own kitchen," he reminisced.

After his American adventure, he came home to work at The Saxon with Chef Luke Dale-Roberts, where he whet his appetite and later became group sous chef for establishments like the PotLuck Club.

"I think that's when my skills were polished, where I was like, 'you know what, if I do run my restaurant one day, this is what I'm going to do or not do'."

Because he was already homesick, he was easily wooed back to Joburg by the owners of Marabi. Sowetan recently got to taste his culinary prowess at the recent celebration of his newest menu.

Roasted fig dessert- thyme roasted figs, roasted hazelnuts served with cinnamon ice-cream.
Image: Londiwe Dlomo Roasted fig dessert- thyme roasted figs, roasted hazelnuts served with cinnamon ice-cream.

Upon arrival at the unassuming Sivewright Avenue, in New Doornfontein in Joburg, you can be forgiven for feeling a bit lost. Marked only by the presence of valets, a rust coloured steel door and a bowl-shaped awning with just the words "Marabi" on it, you can easily drive past.

But once through the doors, the interior decor is muted. With doors sourced from Soweto adding to the nostalgic air about the place, a genteel relaxed atmosphere permeates.

In one of their spaces which can be reserved for private functions, hang two Nelson Makamo paintings, other artworks include a blown-up image of Sivewright Avenue from the 1800s. A stage is set for the live jazz music that plays in the background as you sip on your drink or converse over dinner.

Music is part of the fun at  the Marabi Club
Music is part of the fun at the Marabi Club

Our night started off with Tai style oysters that had a good enough kick to warm the palate. An array of dishes followed with another spicy standout, the Kimchi prawns, which are deep fried with garlic, lemon and butter sauce.

Mlambo wowed us with his 12-hour braised beef tongue, pickled mustard seeds and parsnip puree. The tongue literally fell apart in the most delicious manner with just
the slightest pressure from
the knife.

He showed his versatility with his textures of carrots dish, duck-fat roasted carrots, carrot puree with fermented apple. And would please any sweet tooth with the roasted fig desert - thyme-roasted figs and roasted hazelnuts served with cinnamon ice-cream.

"I want to come up withsomething that's delicious, something that I would like to eat and share. My inspiration comes from just cooking delicious food and allowing people to experience it."