Chef Nti cooks her way back to the top

Chef Nti lost it all and came back stronger.

The 33-year-old celebrity chef, real name Nthabiseng Ramaboa, has become the go-to food connoisseur in SA in a short period of time.

She only became a professional chef in 2015 after losing everything just a year before.

Before being a chef she was a successful businesswoman who ran her own facility management business.

The company was one of the top seven suppliers that cleaned the Johannesburg precinct during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Chef Nti, who was born in Tladi, Soweto, also had three popular retail stores - the biggest in Melrose Arch.

She invested R2m of her own money into the business before it all came crashing down.

"I have always been an entrepreneur. On the side I loved fashion. I was the first black tenant to open at Melrose Arch," she says.

"I spent my own money because back then fashion businesses were not financed. I was so proud of myself, life was good, business was thriving and [then] everything went south."

In 2014 Nti's retail business, which at its peak showcased at SA Fashion Week, collapsed.

She sold her swanky Hyde Park home and cars - a Jaguar and Porsche Cayenne - and, starting from ground zero, put herself through chef school.

She enrolled at the International Hotel School in Sunninghill. "Life was tough," she says. It's nice to look back and talk about it in two sentences. You come back because you are convinced of your purpose.

"Food was the only thing that I loved that I had left. So I was hanging on for dear life, hoping it will work.

"I cut off all the noises in my life and focused. I remember I was listening to a lot of motivational talks and scriptures."

Nti started cooking at age 13 in Tladi while living with her sister and mother - who was divorced.

She credits her love for food to her late grandmother.

"I used to stay with my grandmother. It was a big house and my home was a typical home in the township where everyone goes to when they are hungry," she says.

"That's the one thing I want to keep about my grandmother - she was very generous. She loved people and she knew how to express her love through cooking."

One of her first big gigs as a celebrity chef was as host of cooking show The Perfect Ace in 2016 on e.tv.

In the same year she joined e.tv morning show Sunrise as a regular cook and she was on the show for two years.

Nti has just released new cookbook My Modern African Kitchen, celebrating maize meal as an ingredient that unites Mzansi.

She co-wrote the book with former Sowetan entertainment editor Lesley Mofokeng, who had previously worked on celebrity biographies Bitch, Please! I'm Khanyi Mbau and Dominoes: Unbreakable Spirit - The Somizi Mhlongo Story.

The book currently sits in the top 10 at Exclusive Books.

"Maize meal is probably the staple food that best represents the soul of black communities in South Africa," writes Nti.

Throughout the chapter Nti writes about exciting ways to use the ingredient - with recipes for pap and pilchard tart, phutu tabbouleh and amasi cheesecake.

"I do Afrofusion, I'm all about doing special meals using everyday ingredients and celebrating our culinary heritage," she says.

"I want to show people that it's possible to eat fancy on a budget. This is a book that will show you how to host special meals - it's like three-course meals under R250.

"I want South Africans to know that it's possible to celebrate our own. This is something that is proudly us. Yes, we have been enjoying pap and gravy but this is 2019, we can do better."

It took Nti two years to put the book together. Mofokeng was given a deadline of one month to complete his part.

"I loved writing about maize meal, porridge or 'papa' as we call it," Mofokeng says.

"Few foods define being South African like maize meal does. Paying homage to this humble yet central part of our diet was important," he says

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