Creative chef Mo Ngakane gives us her top tips for the kitchen

Mo Ngakane Image: SIMZ MKHWANAZI
Mo Ngakane Image: SIMZ MKHWANAZI

Whether she’s busy creating exquisite chilli sauces or introducing South Africans to fancy little pastries such as pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts), Molemo Ngakane is no ordinary chef.

The 29-year-old mother of two from Pretoria is also not afraid of experimenting with ingredients: from infusing blood-orange essence into chocolate to creating dome-shaped chocolate cakes with a hint of chilli.

“Cooking — especially baking — is a science. While cooking allows you to play around, some steps in baking need to be exact. For example,glazing cakes instead of icing them is big right now and the science behind getting the glaze right is beautiful,” Mo says. “Instead of basic round or square cakes, moulds are trending; so are match a flavoured treats. I never box myself in.” 

Chef Mo was raised by a mother who loved cooking and baking. Her own journey into the culinary arts began when she immersed herself in her mother’s hand-written recipes and food magazines.

“When my mom said my siblings and I could play with her recipe books, I decided to have fun with them,” Mo says. “Being shy, I found that the kitchen was my comfort space. Cooking allows me to remain behind the scenes, but still be able to share the beauty of what I have to offer.”

Mo began her career at only 19 years old after graduating from the International Hotel School and training at top hotels, such as the Balalaika,the Radisson Blu, and The Bay Hotel.

After just two years in the industry, she took a leap of faith and resigned to start her own catering and consulting business. This brave career move opened the doors and led to her catering at major events, including the Macufe Festival, the Durban July, and the DStvDelicious Festival.

“I was able to cater under my own name for the first time at Macufe. I could not sleep; I could not even eat!” Mo says. “I had cooked before, and I know I need to do certain things at a certain time, but with this, it was 2 500 people. I was completely out of my comfort zone, but I did it. ”

And that is how Mo’s Food and Pastries was born. The 100%-black-owned catering company specialises in consulting, menu planning, and creating memorable dishes.

Mo’s future plans include growing her brand by opening a chain of restaurants, as well as sharing her skills and knowledge with township residents and disadvantaged children. Mo Ngakane is definitely a name to keep an eye on in the culinary space.

Chef Mo Ngakane's attire was especially made by SigmaChef
Chef Mo Ngakane's attire was especially made by SigmaChef
Image: Simz Mkhwanazi for S Mag

Mo's Top Kitchen Tips

Do's

1. Go back to basics. Always have onions and garlic in your kitchen

2. When making pastry, always use good-quality, fresh ingredients

3. When you make curry, go to the experts. I still go to the Indian market and ask questions. 

4. Experiment with fresh berries in your baking.

Dont's

1. Less is more. Avoid being too heavy handed with spices such as chilli.

2. If you are using fresh spices, always include them in the first stage of your cooking by frying them with your onions.

3. Never cook soups, stocks, or sauces over high heat. Rather use low heat and allow to simmer. The last thing you want is a thick sauce with raw meat.

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