Young chef talks about her passion for food and life in KZN

Midlands revives Mpuang, as well as offering the perfect getaway

Londiwe Dlomo Journalist
Granny Mouse Country House and Spa in the Midlands.
Granny Mouse Country House and Spa in the Midlands.
Image: Supplied

There’s plenty of wonderful places to visit in South Africa, we have in this publication shone a light on many of these destinations.

This week we’re taking a closer look at the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.

The Midlands, as it’s commonly referred to, is a nice getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. 

It is filled with old world charm and architecture, cosy cottages, modern farmhouses, craft markets, wineries, spas and scenery straight out of a Hollywood movie. I’ve always had a soft spot for that part of the world. I caught up with a young chef, who is the head chef at Granny Mouse Country House & Spa in Balgowan, at the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains.

Chef Lebo Mpuang.
Chef Lebo Mpuang.
Image: Supplied

Lebo Mpuang, who was born in Cape Town but lived in Johannesburg for most of her life, graduated from Capsicum Culinary Studio in 2014. She  completed her level 2 diploma in food preparation, NQF Level 2 professional patisserie, international level and graduated with merit. 

After graduation, the 31-year-old Mpuang travelled the world to look for work opportunities. She’s worked at the Hilton Group Hotels Double Tree in Guangzhou, China, among other places. Back home she started a catering and private chef business, worked with ambassadors and worked as a brand ambassador for Whirlpool SA and Kitchen Aid. 

In 2019, chef Lebo opened her own private cooking studio in Maboneng, Johannesburg, where she offered her clients cooking classes and intimate five star dining experiences.

Unfortunately due to Covid-19, Mpuang was forced to shut down her business. She then relocated to Durban in 2021 and found a job at a hospitality firm assisting them with kitchen design, the building thereof, as well as menu formulation, cost development and procedure structure for three UKZN canteen restaurants.

It was after this that she found her current job at Granny Mouse.

Here’s a quick Q&A with the chef:

Why did you decide to become a chef? 

I have always been passionate and interested in the hospitality sector.

What sets Durban apart in the culinary sector?

Durban consumers are more laid back.

If you could be any ingredient, which would you be and why? 

Butter. It makes everything taste better.

What is your favourite food memory? 

The first loaf of bread I ever made. I was so proud of myself.

What is SA’s most underrated dish?

Fat cakes and mince. It’s a small meal that always satisfies.

What would you make in 30 minutes to impress somebody you look up to?

Something sweet to lift their mood.

In your opinion what should be SA's national dish? 

Anything braai. We are fire driven people, and we make brilliant meals on the fire.

What did you learn about food during your time abroad?

That culture plays a major role in how we cook and eat, and it is something we need to nurture.

Summerhill Guest Estate

Meanwhile, another Midlands establishment you can try out is the Summerhill Guest Estate. The property is a family-owned and run guesthouse in Cowies Hill. 

The LivingRoom - Team.
The LivingRoom - Team.
Image: Supplied

The guest house boasts a spa, rooms named after famed South African jazz musicians who have played and stayed there, and luscious green lawns, the ideal getaway location. The estate also has a restaurant called The LivingRoom, a hidden gem by chef Johannes Richter, which showcases the province’s culinary diversity from garden to plate, expressed through his fine French training and passion for Asian techniques.  

The LivingRoom's Msobo and tonic.
The LivingRoom's Msobo and tonic.
Image: Supplied

The eatery offers a seven-course wine-pairing dinner and three-course Wagyu dinner for a special running from November 26 until January 8 next year. The special excludes December 23-26 period and New Year's Eve.

The guys over at The LivingRoom also sent a quick mocktail recipe to try over the festive season. 

Msobo & Tonic

You will need:

  • 2 cl Msobo berry jam
  • 2 cl lemon syrup
  • sacred basil (whole out the garden)

Pour the ingredients into a shaker, add ice and shake well.

Pour into a tall glass and top up with tonic water.

* CL= centilitre; 1-centilitre equals 10ml.

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