How Nelson Mandela Bay’s singing chef became her own boss
Capsicum Culinary Studio graduate, Nolu Johnson-Nqondi, talks about the vast opportunities in the industry and running a successful catering business
When Nolu Johnson-Ngqondi was given her first opportunity to travel abroad it was for singing, but when that did not happen because of Covid-19, the young chef was not deterred.
Johnson-Ngqondi — who grew up in New Brighton, Nelson Mandela Bay — graduated from Gqeberha’s Capsicum Culinary Studio in 2021 and is now running a successful catering company in East London.
One day she hopes her global adventure will be to showcase her culinary skills.
“I found my passion for cooking in high school. I used to watch chefs in action on The Food Network on DStv and I would imitate what they were doing — that’s when I found my calling,” she says.
Her dream was put on hold due to the cost of culinary studies but with determination she worked various jobs, including performing.
Johnson-Ngqondi was offered the chance to go to Greece as a backing vocalist on a six-month contract until Covid-19 struck. Her luck was on the up again when she applied for a bursary for a professional chef programme at Capsicum Culinary Studio through the Masinyusane Development Organisation, and was successful.
“I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and it was amazing. I learnt that so much was possible.”
She chose to do her practical internship at Buffalo City’s Grazia Fine Food & Wine because she wanted to train in a fine dining establishment. This year she became her own boss with the launch of Liyachuma (It is Blossoming).
“I cater for both small and large events. I cook daily meals for people and deliver them; I cater for functions and also offer a private chef experience. I am thrilled with how well it has done in such a short time.”
Johnson-Ngqondi says chefs in this country don’t celebrate being African as much as they should.
“I've noticed that most fine dining restaurants focus on French and Italian cuisine. It’s rare that you find a fine dining restaurant that concentrates on SA dishes. I am not talking about a restaurant specialising in African cuisine, but rather an establishment that uses an ingredient such as a lamb shank and is prepared in a way to give it a uniquely SA flavour.”
She lists her food heroes as SA celebrity chef Siba Mtongana and a Capsicum lecturer.
“Chef Donovan Miller taught me everything I know and things I didn’t realise I had to know; it was not only about cooking but how to carry myself as a chef and to take pride in everything I do. He was an invaluable mentor to me.”
Johnson-Nqondi urges anyone thinking of making a career in food to visit the open day at Capsicum’s Nelson Mandela Bay campus on Saturday morning on May 28.
“It’s a career that offers an array of opportunities including those on the world stage. When I was at school, we were never taught about what a job as a chef could offer.
“I was sad when my working trip to Greece was cancelled but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In the future, I can apply for a job not only as a singer but as a chef. Perhaps even as a singing chef,” she says.
Johnson-Ngqondi shares her recipe for creamy chicken and mushroom linguine, her go-to easy dinner after a busy day.
- 150g linguine pasta
- 1l water
- 3ml oil
- 2g salt
Add lukewarm water in a pot. Bring to a boil and add oil and salt. Add pasta to the boiling water. Cook for 8-10 minutes till al dente. Drain the water. Rinse with cold water once cooked and put aside.
Chicken and mushroom ingredients:
- 500g chicken fillets
- 15ml oil
- 60ml butter
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 300g mushrooms, chopped
- Cajun spice (optional)
Cut chicken into strips, season with salt, pepper and Cajun spice. In a sauté pan add the oil and butter, sauté the chicken till golden brown, take out and set aside. In the same pan add the onion and mushrooms and sauté until cooked. Add the chicken again and 125ml cream.
Stir and add to the pasta.
- 2tbs butter
- 2tbs flour
- 125ml milk
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2g nutmeg
In a saucepan, add the butter and let it melt. Add equal amount of flour, whisk together until a roux is formed. Let it cook a few minutes before adding your milk and gradually whisking until it’s a thick, creamy sauce. Whisk to your preferred consistency, adding milk if it’s too thick. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. When cooked, add to the creamy chicken pasta. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Enjoy.
This article was paid for by Capsicum Culinary Studio.