Moshoaliba has reason to be proud
A rich and fulfilling culinary journey
“I’ve always said this, I think from 14-15 years ago when I started, that I’m a young village girl who is passionate about food and I never thought in a million years that at this point in my life I’d be at this point in my career.”
These words are uttered by 34-year-old Puleng Moshoaliba, the executive sous chef for the Lacuna bistro at Sandton establishment The Maslow Hotel. Moshoaliba is celebrating one year in her position there.
“For me it’s been a learning and amazing journey and as I grow from place to place I still get anxious but I’m still optimistic that things are going to work out. I look on the bright side of things and try not to let the negatives bring me down. I’ve always said, village girl in a modern life.”
Moshoaliba is from QwaQwa in the Free State. She attended Seotlong Agricultural and Hotel School in Phuthaditjhaba and later got her professional cookery diploma from the International Hotel School in Durban.
As the executive sous chef, Moshoaliba works with a team of 17 chefs across hot breakfast, cold kitchen, banqueting chefs, dinner service, pastry, sushi and the staff canteen. She is responsible for all aspects of the kitchen such as menu plans, operations, recipes, financial responsibility, portion and inventory control, food quality, and employee supervision, also providing leadership training and hands-on management of the kitchen staff. Her workday starts at 5am and ends around 3pm, five days of the week on a rotating schedule. The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown has really disrupted how she works.
“The biggest pain for me is the display of food. You don’t have the luxury to showcase my artistic side of food, because as simple as things are I love it beautiful and we’ve become so restricted that I can't do the food displays that I like to do.
"Food displays speak a lot. They tell a story, and now 80% of the items have to be pre-packaged. If it’s not pre-packaged it has to be done with people standing across and behind screens. For me it’s taken away that personal touch that you would interpret in displays of food.“
Other changes include limiting staff in the kitchen. The establishment adheres to all Covid-19 protocols.
Moshoaliba has extensive experience, having worked in the corporate world and for 10 years at an events and weddings company, working her way up from chef de partie to pastry sous chef and then executive sous chef, running a team of 10 chefs and six cleaners. “By the time I left, I had learnt a lot and gained so much experience,” she says.
Moshoaliba recently catered at Dineo Langa nee Moeketsi’s engagement party and traditional wedding celebration, which was aired on Mzansi Magic. She’s been featured in True Love magazine and the now-defunct Food and Home magazine.
Moshoaliba says sometimes she forgets to celebrate how far she has come and that she wants to do more in exposing different career paths to young children who come from the same place such as hers. She was due to speak on her career at her old high school but it had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Moshoaliba was also nominated for chef of the year by the Institute of Culinary Arts.
“Where I am and how I live and the career path that I have chosen are two opposites of where I’m from. And batho ba [the people of] QwaQwa sometimes when you say you’re a chef they’ll be like okay, uphega ko [you cook at] KFC, ko [at] Nandos etc. They actually don’t realise that there is a much bigger picture behind that. So it took a long time for my family to realise what I did.”
She has attended food shows and conferences in the United States of America and when quizzed on the difference between American cuisine and South African cuisine, she had this to say: “In the US I find that there is too much flavouring that goes into food; artificial flavourings that is. They over-process food. I think in South Africa, though we still love international influences, we stick to the original flavour profile of items.
When you have a steak you still want to identify that it’s a sirloin steak. If you have chicken, it doesn’t matter what chicken it is, it’s still identifiable. I think that is what I appreciate more about South African food. We don’t kill our food to the core. We still identify food in meals and items and ingredients in food without complicating it too much.”
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