Chef Nti has taken South Africa and taste buds by storm. The last year has seen our favourite foodie chef win our hearts and appetites by bringing the joy of traditional favourites and remixing them with a modern, fusion inspired approach that can now be enjoyed by everyone with her new cook book “My modern African kitchen”.
On the eve of the official launch of her new culinary triumph, Chef Nti shared some behind the scenes insights that went into the book and some helpful hints to take you on your own food journey!
What is the first recipe that went into the book?
The first recipe to go into the book was Amasi Cheese Cake – unbaked cheesecake made with fermented milk and jelly. I love that anyone can make it, literally a six year old could it, and the final product tastes and looks just as good as a baked version if not better.
What is your favourite comfort food from childhood?
Lucky Star Pilchard with Phutu pap – to date, it’s still my go to food when I need a hug.
Many people are scared to experiment in the kitchen, how do you approach combining flavours?
I’m lucky because I grew in a household where experimenting in the kitchen was just a thing we do, my mom had amazing tricks. For example, she would take a handful of cooked ground beef/ minced meat, some cooked rice, mix that together, wrap it in cabbage leaves and then roast it on a bed of vegetables. The most delicious dish ever tasted and it would feed the entire family.
You have trained under some great master chefs…what important lesson have you brought into your book
The biggest lesson I learnt, from my time spent in the Le Petit Maison kitchen, was to always maintain the integrity of your ingredients. Firstly, by choosing superior quality produce and then in the way one treats it when preparing the food.
How do you choose your suppliers when sourcing for Taste Kitchen?
I like the idea of sourcing local, I love having a relationship with the people that grow my food. In my neighborhood I have mama Refiloe who runs a greenhouse garden with the best and freshest produce. I also go to the market (but that happens 5am – 6am) or the third option is buying from local vendors.
The look of a plate is important simply because one eats first with your eyes, how do you build up a plate that delivers all the key components of meal?
When I’m cooking I consider first and foremost the flavour spectrum of a dish, and then I look for texture – having different textures makes it exciting for one’s palate. This is followed by colour, the freshest ingredients cooked accordingly delivers a vivid looking plate.
What is your favourite kitchen tool? In preparing the recipe book and trying out recipes what kitchen tool got the most use?
Easy, my silicone spatulas are my favourite tools, and then of course my pots. I love a good cast iron pot because as much as one needs the best ingredients – the tools also help when it comes to enhancing flavour and finishing the dish off correctly.
Has the heightened interest in celebrity chefs and cooking been positive for your profile?
It has been amazing. I look back to when I started the industry was small and brands were not investing their budget in food. Now it’s a completely different ball game. We have a thriving industry with endless opportunities. I love seeing more and more celebrity chefs coming into the scene. It makes it bigger!!!! Food is now the main agenda
What is your favourite newly discovered ingredient that made it into the cook book?
I’d say broad-beans – you find them in a lot of Mediterranean dishes, I love the taste and texture. They are rich in fiber vitamin A and an excellent source of protein and perfect for summer, even though a bit tricky to source.
How do you feel about molecular gastronomy, is there an African version?
Personally, it’s not my thing, I love honest food, like how our grandparents cook. Cooking is recognised to have three components; social, artistic and technical. Molecular cuisine is a modern style of cooking and very technical. I appreciate the art but I do not necessarily enjoy food in that form.
I love cooking from the heart – social dinning is my thing, hence my obsession with Mediterranean cuisine.
Are you affected by reviews, what is your opinion on food writers?
I am okay with people expressing their opinions. Food writers are individuals with a personal take on food, like we all have. I am at peace with the fact that not everything will be for everyone. I do not pay attention to reviews – I simply work from the heart.
What dish are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my maize meal recipes. I love the idea of taking maize meal to new heights. I have a whole chapter dedicated to recipes with that grain and I promise you too will enjoy exploring this humble yet versatile ingredient.
For a complete novice, what starter, main and dessert from the recipe book would you recommend in creating a meal with impact?
I would go for quick wins!! Good food without being overwhelmed by the long tedious process of cooking – as a matter of fact my whole book is filled with recipes that cook quick fast!!
- Broad Bean Salad to start
- Roast Chicken, with Orange Fennel and Turmeric – for main, with this one we let the oven do the work, and who doesn’t love chicken right?
- Peanut Banana Smoothie Ice Cream for dessert
In a final piece of advice how do you take a simple ingredient and jazz it up to something fabulous?
I love Broccolini Tempura – this a simple one and another recipe from the book.
You simply dip the broccolinis (a similar vegetable to broccoli but with smaller florets and longer, thinner stalks) in batter and fry in a little oil.
Cooking them this way adds texture to the broccoli and that also builds in flavour beautifully.
It can be enjoyed with a side of tomato relish and it hardly takes any time to prepare!
Chef Nti’s latest culinary triumph “My Modern African Kitchen” is the ultimate South African kitchen companion and a foodie must-have and is available in all major book stores.