She’s the darling of food television in South Africa, dispensing delectable, doable recipes and helping even the most cooking-wary viewers embrace their kitchen gadgets and oven gloves with gusto.
But former East London schoolgirl Siba Mtongana is far from just a local success story. The stunning celebrity chef’s current series, Siba’s Table, is now shown in more than 60 million homes in the US alone, and has legions of fans across Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Siba has become a global television sensation ever since the Food Network first recognised her star power just four years ago.
Commissioned in 2013, season one of Siba’s Table was an immediate hit and ended up in the top five titles for Food Network South Africa that year – a position Siba has easily retained every year since.
But what really got the ball rolling was when the show was picked up by the Cooking Channel in the US, where it launched in 2014. This milestone made Siba one of the first South African chefs to host a series on a US television network.
Season two continued the successful format and was filmed at her Hout Bay home. Premiering in 2015, it also featured her ever-expanding, gorgeous family.
Following the birth of her third child, just as season three was given the green light, greenlit, Siba published her first cookbook, My Table, which also made history as the best selling cookbook ever stocked by Woolworths South Africa.
We asked Siba to share her amazing journey and how she balances a crazy schedule with being a wife and mum.
Tell us about your Eastern Cape roots.
The Eastern Cape is my home. It’s where I was born and brought up, and it has a very special place in my heart.
I was born in Mdantsane, just outside East London. We lived in NU13 and later moved to NU17. My high school years were at Alphendale High in Vergenoeg.
Did you study in the culinary field?
I have a degree in food and consumer sciences, majoring in food, food science and nutrition. I attended the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, where I studied for four years. I was one of the top students in my class.
Please share the early days of your food journey – where and how did it all start?
My love for cooking was cultivated at home through observing my mom and family cook our everyday food. I took the decision in matric to pursue a professional career in food. I started off as a tutor, helping other students, then got offered an assistant lecturer position for my course at university, and was later appointed food editor at Drum Magazine.
It was then that I branched out into television for my first cooking show, Cooking with Siba, which aired on Mzansi Magic and won a Safta Award. Thereafter I was head-hunted by Food Network in London for my current show, Siba’s Table, which is aired in more than 130 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the US, Asia and Australia.. Siba’s Table airs to more than 60 million homes in the US alone.
You have a hectic year ahead. Tell us more.
Season 3 of Siba’s Table is airing in June/July, and we are filming another new, exciting show, Make it Sibalicious, which will be digitally driven.
For this show we are inviting all my fans, and self-acclaimed chefs, aspiring chefs and foodies alike, to send in recipes that they would like me to twist with a bit of va-va-voom via Twitter or Facebook and Instagram, using hashtag #MakeItSibalicious and tag @FoodNetworkSA and @SibaMtongana.
I might choose these recipes to be featured in the new Sibalucious show. Visit foodnetworksa.co.za for more.
I’m also part of a new wedding show on M-Net, Wedding Bashers as one of the judges who’ll choose the ultimate winner. Exciting times!
What can we expect from season three of Siba’s Table, to be broadcast soon?
Amazing recipes that are easy to make, using accessible ingredients, either for everyday cooking or for entertainment… I’m all about empowering people to be the stars in their kitchen, and I aim to educate and expose them to food trends worldwide.
And what can we expect from Make it Sibalicious?
I’ll be choosing a number of recipes from fans, then adding my own special touches for featuring on the show. This is going to be a fun and interactive Sibalicious series – I love the digital and technology aspect of it all!
How do you balance motherhood with a career that has literally exploded in recent years?
Having supporting structures helps me both on the business front and at home. I share most of my food adventures with my husband and three children.
You have inspired many viewers, not only with your recipes, but also with your recent weight-loss journey. Is it hard to stay in shape given the nature and pressures of the industry you are in?
It’s easier for me because I know what to eat and not eat. One just needs to be committed. Also, I gained weight because of my pregnancies, and I was okay with that, knowing I would make the effort to go back to my normal weight after having my children.
Do you have any dietary tips to share?
What I’m after is a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle with exercise, rather than simply the weight loss. Stay away from processed and refined carbohydrates and sugar. You can have these once in a while, but in small portions.
Eat a varied and balanced diet, and understand portion control. Drink plenty of water, too, but flavour it with fresh fruits instead of juice, store-bought iced tea and fizzy drinks that are high in sugar. Cardio-exercise helps burn calories; balance it with weights to tone your body and build muscle.