Meet South Africa’s masterchef Abigail Mbalo
Self-determination, self-motivation, self-empowerment & self-belief are the attributes that Abigail Mbalo rely on daily to inspire her journey as the chef and creative director of 4Roomed eKasi Culture. On a recent exploration of South Africa for Madiba’s Journey, I had the brilliant opportunity to dine in this unique Ubuntu experience. Should you find yourself in Capetown make the journey to Khayelitsha township to experience the love and artistry that made Mbalo a MasterChef Season 3 finalist. Dining with Abigail is more than eating good food, it is a cultural experience and a lifestyle. I can honestly say my experience was life-changing and the perfect way to #meetsouthafrica the saying is true dynamite comes in small packages so prepare to be blown away in food bliss and passionate personalities. Make this dining experience one of the many reasons you jaunt to beautiful South Africa! It’s time to eat and eat good!
As an African woman entrepreneur, what challenges do you face and what words of wisdom would you share with other minorities venturing off into the world of culinary?
As an African woman growing up in the township of South Africa which is a totally different landscape compared to other parts of the African continent, with its vast dynamics of judgment from being undeserving, a criminal, poor, and more. As a black woman from the township, I had grown up with a mindset that life will be better if I move out of the “hood” (the township, 4Roomed home) and live in the suburbs once I get my degree, not realizing though the impact my choice will have in this landscape. With this move to suburbia, there were constant actions from my side where I had to prove that I too belong here.
My words of wisdom are “Young black woman, never leave your hood!” Use your creativity as work that will impact change in the space you come from, elevate the standard and dignity of the space you come from so the townships can be respected and acknowledged as one of the sought-after destinations in South Africa.”
What role does South Africa play in the development of your brand?
The South African tourism has in fact been the major role player in recognizing the work I set out to do in the township. Our restaurant has received an increase in international patrons visiting us due to this recognition. There have been media articles written about our restaurant internationally and nationally. Our restaurant now features in the South African Eat Out 500 Best restaurants in South Africa (on 133 Best Restaurants in Cape Town).
How have your artistic abilities influenced your cooking and development of your dining establishment?
Yes definitely! My artistic abilities are one of my driving forces in living a purposeful life. The establishment seating area is a design I created to bring about tranquility to the space where guests will dine, I have also designed the space in such a way that we are able to evoke nostalgia of a township 4Roomed home (during the 1950’s – 1980’s). South Africa’s oldest townships (right across the country) were designed during the apartheid era for black families coming from the rural homelands seeking work in the cities, these home were a four roomed dwellings with a dining room, two bedrooms and kitchen with more than four families in most households living together. The black families found a way to live the most fulfilling lives in these four roomed homes with their families. These are the stories that influence the cuisine we create at the restaurant. With the application of my creativity I take township staples that we grew up on, add a bit of luxury, temper the cooking methods to bring a meal that will excite a 21st century palate.
In this microwave society, I know people think that you arrive at this place of success overnight? Is this overnight stardom or can you enlighten us about your journey in acting?
Our work started in 2014 out of a food truck working on weekends only while living 67 kilometers away (Melkbosstrand) from our place of operation (Khayelitsha).
We used this period (2014 to early 2016) to study the market and position our brand.
Over this period, we developed strategies that we knew had to be flexible to evolve with the ever changing market. In mid December 2016, we opened our flagship concept restaurant in the township while running a pop fine dining in the township with the food truck (which is strictly by booking), so this meant investing a lot of time to the business. We still soldier on with pride and enthusiasm in running both the restaurant and food truck private event together with pop up fine dining in the township. So, no…this is not overnight stardom or recognition on quality of work we serve but dedication, perseverance and the reminder that the work we do serves a purpose in space we operate in. The innovative approach in our service and culinary service tested over time is what has set us apart from the rest.
What message would you like to share with travelers and tourist in route to South Africa and how can food lovers find you?
What I love to share with food lovers visiting South Africa is that if you are looking for an authentic human engagement and an immersion into the history of this country best you head off to a nearby township guided by a certified tour guide who will ensure you do not miss a bit of our story telling. I myself and family once in a while treat ourselves to these excursions of learning about our near the city history…it is a very rich history that brings about
And with food! Try everything! From Xhosa (Tata Mandela tribe) take on pap to Basotho take, Afrikaners take and the Zulu’s take on pap…you have to have pap in South Africa. Find out what pap is when you get here.
Well for an interesting take on pap please do visit us 4Roomed eKasi Culture in the heart of Khayelitsha a township in Cape Town, South Africa.
What makes your experience a culture? What is next for you and what can we expect to see as you continue your journey in the culinary world?
What makes our experience a culture is the narrative we share about the 4Roomed home memoirs intended to evoke nostalgia that creates a dialogue that will stimulate actions to impact a change in the township landscape. The change we are talking about is a shift on economic development programs that empowers the South Africa society in its entirety…bridging the gaps between cities, towns, rural and townships!