Have you ever wondered what’s being served in the kitchens of some of the world’s most prestigious people? Ever wanted to have dinner with a president? Well South Africans may not be breaking bread with Nelson Mandela these days, but they now have the secrets of his favorite recipes. His personal chef, Xoliswa Ndoyiya, has published a cookbook of meals she serves to the former president, his family and guests.
“Now I am saying yes, there is a secret. It is love," Ndoyiya explained. "I cook food with love.”
After two decades of being asked by members of the extended Mandela family and guests to Mandela’s home about her secret for preparing such delicious meals, Xoliswa or Xoli Ndoyiya has finally revealed it at the launch of her cookbook.
The title of the book, Ukutya Kwasekhaya - the isiXhosa phrase for home cooking - comes from her brief job interview with Mandela in 1992, when he told her he had heard she was a good cook but wanted to know if she also cooked traditional food well.
“When Tata [Nelson Mandela] [asked] me, am I going to cook because he heard that I am a good cook, and I said yes, I am and I will cook for you Tata. I thought I was still going for another interview, but then it was just, you got the job, there and then,” Ndoyiya said.
isiXhosa is the language of the Xhosa people of the Eastern Cape Province, the home of both Mandela and Ndoyiya. Ukutya Kwasekhaya is filled with recipes of typical South African food, such as boerewors, a spicy sausage; soup made from butternuts, an indigenous South Africa squash; and ginger beer, a non-alcoholic spicy, refreshing drink.
Also included are recipes for Jewish foods such as chicken liver spread and potatoe latkes; Italian pastas and Spanish paella. And there are a number of Ndoyiya’s own creations, such as soy baked lamb chops, orange turkey, creamy chicken with Italian herbs, and peanut butter and spinach soup.
But the book is dominated by traditional Xhosa food such as amarhewu, a fermented maize drink; ulusi or tripe; umsilo wenkomo or oxtail stew; tshakalaka, a spicy relish; and, umfino, which is maize meal porridge with spinach.
Soon after she began to work for Mandela, he asked Ndoyiya if, in addition to being his chef, would she be willing to also undertake the day-to-day care of his grandchildren, whom he wanted to bring to live with him. He told her he wanted to be able to spend lots of time with them, because he was in jail when his own children were growing up. In a letter from Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, read by Mandela’s granddaughter Ndileka Mandela - the couple spoke of the close ties that had grown between the family and their chef.
“Xoli, our home is warm and welcoming because you have always been there," Ndileka said. "With a smile you treat our children as your sisters, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren with the love of a mother. You welcome and serve all of our guests with distinction.”
Hlangenani Mandela, the elder statesman’s great grandson, told Ndoyiya the Mandela family is appreciative of the personal sacrifices she made to cook for the family and to take care of them.
“In short I would like to say thank you for the very many sacrifices you have given to our family, staying away from your children. And I stand here looking across at my bigger brothers, your sons, that you’ve shared stories and how you would like to be around them and with them, instead you spent that time with us and the family. So a very heartfelt thank you from me. I am sure I speak on behalf of the family in saying that we love and thank you very much. Siyabulela [isiXhosa: thank you for improving our lives] mama,” Hlangenani said.
Ndoyiya says she has wanted to write a cookbook for years, and is thrilled it has finally come to fruition.