Siba Mtongana: All she touches is SIBAtastic!

Siba Mtongana's new food show starts on April 26.
Siba Mtongana's new food show starts on April 26.
Image: SANDILE NDLOVU

There was a time when the uber successful foodie, Siba Mtongana, regretted having studied food and consumer science.

It was inevitable that she would be consumed by her passion of creating culinary dishes - but after earning a degree from Cape Technikon, she was unemployed for almost a year.

"It was the longest and most depressing nine months of my life," she says.

Fast forward a decade later, Siba is a household brand not only locally but to foodies and fans all over the world. "My love for food comes from my mom. She was a teacher by profession but such a great cook.

"I was mesmerised by her techniques, all self-taught, and also by how she never created anything from a written recipe. It was by intuition - using fresh herbs and vegetables from our garden. My family is a big one, and we loved getting together and having food to celebrate," she says.

Growing up in Mdantsane, 30 km from East London in the Eastern Cape, a young Siba thought success meant becoming a doctor or a lawyer.

"I even thought of becoming an actress," she jokes.

She admits her mother wasn't too pleased when she decided as an adolescent to pursue her love for food.

"My mom looked at me disappointingly. She had worked hard to keep us out of the kitchen and here I was voluntarily going back in. But after completing my studies I didn't have work for nine months.

"I had to work in a boutique and was offered a retail manager's position. It was disheartening not doing the work I studied for.

"I felt like I had [made] the biggest mistake and that everyone had told me so. I didn't want the manager's position because I thought lots of money would derail me from my dream of being a sought-after food expert," Siba says.

It was also in her teen and struggling years that she met her equally successful husband of nine years, Brian Mtongana, who is the head of design at Woolworths.

After calling in favours from her former lecturers, she was recommended for the job of assistant food editor at Drum magazine. "I really wanted the editor's position, but promotion comes in God's time. And there's a reason things play out the way they do," she says.

Soon she started the Cooking with Siba show, which won a Safta. This is when international deals started rolling in and Siba's Table was born. "I was in awe. I couldn't believe the grace of God.

"An African child getting the opportunity to cook in people's homes on an international platform."

Siba has since accumulated numerous awards all over the world, the recent one being the silver world medal at the New York Festivals TV and Film Awards, in Las Vegas.

"It's testimony that all my hard work has paid off. And that I'm able to put my continent on the map is a blessing. There's lots that goes in to make the show what it is. Also, having four kids and having to be away from home gets hard. They are so upset when I'm not able to cook for them. I try to prepare meals in advance with my eldest, Lonwabo, assisting. And having my team at the Siba Company ... I'm able to work from home where I prioritise time with family," she says proudly.

Now she's onto a new series called Siba's Adventures Johannesburg - showing off Joburg as a tourist destination and the secrets behind its best dishes, to which she adds her own "Sibalicious" twist.

"It's going to be so much Sibatastic," says the host with an array of self-made food terminology.

- Siba's Adventures Johannesburg starts on April 25 at 7pm and will have a total of six episodes on Food Network (DStv 175).

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