If you’re looking for inspiration in the kitchen, look no further than Chef Ukhonaye Mconi, a dynamic rising star on the South African culinary scene. As both a lecturer at Capsicum Culinary Studio and as a seasoned chef, Mconi brings a passion for cooking and a love of traditional South African flavours and ingredients to every dish he creates. One of the concepts he loves to incorporate into his cooking is the Seven Colours food culture which has become a tradition on South African tables on Sundays.
Seven Colours is a celebration of the diversity and richness of South African cuisine and is centred around the idea of having seven different dishes on the table, each representing a different colour and flavour. A standard seven colours plate could contain inyama of your choice, gravy, rice, potatoes, butternut or pumpkin, bean salad, beetroot, green beans or peas and carrots.
For Chef Mconi, Seven Colours is an important part of South African heritage: “I love the idea of having a meal that represents all the different cultures and communities in South Africa. It’s a way to bring people together and celebrate both our similarities and our differences.” He incorporates the concept of Seven Colours into his cooking by using a variety of ingredients and flavours and by showcasing traditional South African dishes in new and innovative ways. He is particularly skilled at using spices and herbs to enhance the flavours of his dishes and is always on the lookout for new and exciting ingredients to incorporate into his cooking.
It’s interesting to note that Chef Mconi has come full circle in his career, having graduated from Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Cape Town campus in 2017, then working in the culinary field in the Mother City for a number of years and returning to Capsicum, this time as a lecturer, teaching at the school’s Rosebank campus in Johannesburg.
Mconi says he enjoys being on the other side of the cooking stations: “The experience has been a real eye-opener, seeing how much work goes into preparing students for this industry. It is heart-warming to see them in the cocoon stage and then fly off to become the best versions of themselves. The calls and texts I receive from them about how I helped them realise their dreams is the cherry on top.
“Being a chef is more than just cooking and presenting beautiful plates. It is an art that requires so much of the chef, mentally, physically and emotionally. The passion you have is your saving grace during those times when the going gets tough. This industry needs a different kind of bravery and a different kind of creativity. I always tell my students to identify where their passion lies in this industry and go for it.”
Chef Mconi shares some of his favourite recipes:
Rooibos and Granadilla Gin Cocktail
In this country we love our booze, so why not something South African and fruity?
150ml rooibos tea
2 tablespoons granadilla pulp
30ml craft gin
40ml ginger beer
In a jug, add your rooibos, granadilla and gin, and mix well. Strain into glass filled with ice. Add the ginger beer and top it off with a splash of tonic water.
Taking a plain Jane and making it fabulous! It’s a great addition to any Seven Colours meal.
150g tender stem broccoli (trim any leaves on the stem)
200g flour (50g for initial dusting)
150ml sparkling water
8g smoked paprika
Oil for deep frying
In a bowl, whisk together the 150g flour, paprika and sparkling water, making sure it is not too thin or too thick (looking for a syrupy consistency). Pre-heat the oil. Dip the broccoli in the dusting flour (50g) then into the flour paste and straight into the hot oil. Cook till crispy. Strain the broccoli, drain on a paper towel and season with salt and pepper before serving.
Another great addition to your Seven Colours feast and you get to smash things!
5 baby potatoes, boiled with skin on until soft
5 tablespoons butter
5g fresh thyme sprigs
4g fresh rosemary, chopped
50g bacon bits, fried
50g Parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper, place the potatoes on top and bash with the bottom of a clean bottle, to flatten the potato and get the skin ripped. In a bowl, mix the butter and herbs, then spoon onto each potato. Top with bacon bits and grated Parmesan. Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden and crispy. Serve immediately.