Chef Katlego Mlambo on coping during COVID

Chefs hardly ever get time off and, to some degree, lockdown was a blessing and a curse. Our team was on the upward curve prior to the pandemic with a lot of new concepts in play, but when lockdown came, we had to put all those concepts on ice, which was a bit of a blow.

COVID was not kind to hospitality in general. Hallmark House had to close, which, in effect, meant that Marabi had to close. We had to get creative to keep our revenue stream, which was super depleted because of the local lockdown, going.

I created a luxurious seven-course takeaway menu, which was an extension of our vision and an opportunity for people to have our food in the comfort of their homes. We are also lucky we are part of a mixed-use establishment, which means we had residents to cater for in-house, which helped a lot too.

As a young black chef, my responsibility is to ensure that I create a platform of safety, openness and creativity for (other) black chefs

We have adjusted by trying to have a smaller menu, to avoid wastage, but the menu will still have the same delicious and aggressive flavours. We have been working with local suppliers as well as sourcing directly from farmers.

The concept has not changed and we have moved part of our focus to include African food with Asian and French influences. I think that food is an important aspect of our culture and I am really focused on representing it as well as I can.

We are lucky we are part of a growing brand within the Johannesburg CBD. The hotel comprises three restaurants: 999 Rooftop, Thorn Café and The Marabi Club. All the restaurants and spaces are a collaboration of African-inspired aesthetics and quality food and beverage.

We are privileged to have some of the best artists in the world in the form of famed artist Nelson Makamo and fashion designer Laduma Ngxokolo of Maxhosa, who are residents and who partner with us on creative projects. This has allowed our brand as a hotel to serve different audiences and expand on the options available in the CBD and Hallmark House Hotel. It’s sad to hear that people are both unaware and scared to come to Maboneng or Johannesburg CBD.

This limits the number of people who could be exposed to our cuisine. I think having better security measures as well as better police presence will really help the tourism ecosystem in Johannesburg as a whole. We are very blessed to be under the leadership of Dale De Ruig, who was able to not only keep our team together but also pay full salaries during these trying times. 

Having time to rest, rethink and refocus has enabled me to be able to come out with clearer ideas and to read up on other chefs and come up with (hopefully) more intriguing food. As a young black chef, my responsibility is to ensure that I create a platform of safety, openness and creativity for the upcoming black chefs. I think my influence goes beyond the kitchen and its dynamics; it allows me to expose the possibility of success and to inspire a generation of chefs to be able to cook food that they’ve grown up eating and enjoying, with a touch of elegance.

I hope that more black chefs are recognised for the quality they present in this industry, which I hope will inspire the next crop of quality chefs. I hope to put Marabi on the map and be part of the top 10 best restaurants in the country in the near future. 

Katlego Mlambo is the 2019 Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star.


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