The passion of Chef Ukhonaye Mconi

Ukhonaye Mconi JoziStyle

Ukhonaye Mconi has come full circle. This passionate young chef, who studied his craft at Capsicum Culinary Studio, has returned to his alma mater as a chef lecturer.

Mconi – who graduated from the school’s Cape Town campus in 2017 and worked in the culinary field in the Mother City for a number of years – currently lives in Ferndale, Randburg, and teaches at Capsicum’s Rosebank, Johannesburg branch.

He says he enjoys being on the other side of the cooking stations: “The experience has been eye-opening, to see 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.”

Mconi believes that becoming a chef is not about a career but rather a passion and gives his advice to young people who want to enter the industry.

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.”


Ukhonaye Mconi JoziStyle

We asked Mconi some questions and also to share one of his favourite recipes.

What famous chefs do you follow and why?
Firstly, Geoffrey Zakarian. This man is suave, smart and stylish. That description not only describes his work but his presentation too. Here is a man who cooks in his suit and sometimes jeans. His drive as a restaurateur and on Iron Chef USA is amazing, and he presents himself in a way that I would love to also do as I grow older. Secondly, Heston Blumenthal. He is a chef with amazing deception in his food. He is a gastronomic genius and someone who stretches the boundaries of taste, sight and touch.

Are you a coffee or tea person?
I am totally a tea person! Give me spiced chai and we are best friends for life but not boxed chai from tea bags; rather one where I can taste the spice mix. I do not drink coffee at all.

Apart from knives, what is your best piece of kitchen equipment?
My hands. I find that mixing doughs and marinating meats with your hands, creates a beautiful flavour. Why? Because everything is connected and that means once you prepare meals with happiness and love, your hands transmit this energy to all those ingredients that you handled with your bare hands.

And a few fun questions:

Name five things always in your fridge or pantry
Butter, garlic, pork, cheese and fruit.

What would be your last meal?
Eighteen hour smoked pork with brioche buns.

Is there anything you do not eat?
Avocado, all seafood, cupcakes and McDonald’s.

If you had to cook dinner for five famous people, who would they be?
Rihanna, Oprah, Yebba, Erykah Badu and Julia Roberts

What are three latest food trends?
Traditional African food to the world, vegan substitutes and 3D printing of food.

Ukhonaye Mconi’s Salt Baked Garlic Potato Mash

1kg potatoes
1kg salt
200g butter
200ml cream (hot)
1 bulb roasted garlic

Preheat oven to 200ºC. On a baking tray, pour out all the salt and place the unpeeled potatoes on it. Bake in the oven for 90 minutes or until they are soft. The potatoes should feel lighter and the skin slightly crispy and golden. While still hot, push the potatoes through a sieve into a pot and have the hot cream and butter ready. At intervals, add the butter and cream in thirds and stir on a low heat. Chop the roasted garlic finely and stir into the mash until well combined.
Serve hot as a side dish or enjoy as is.

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