After starting her career as a domestic worker and later working as a chef in a Johannesburg hotel, South Africa, life took an unexpected turn for Xoliswa Ndoyiya when she was hired to cook for the country's first democratic President, Nelson Mandela.
Xoliswa was the head chef for the late President for over two decades, and served personalities such as former US President Bill Clinton and late singer Michael Jackson. The 52-year-old was in India a few days back, as part of the delegation led by Senzeni Zokwana, South African Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Excerpts from the interview:
You worked with Mandela for 22 years. How much did that change you?
Working for him changed my life. He lived the values he shared with the world. I learned from him about humanity. Coming from a nation that was divided across racial lines, he taught us that once we strip away what was instilled by the previous government, we are all the same.
Can you share something about him that people don't know?
He respected people wholeheartedly and expected the same in return. He was very particular about his personal items. Like, never open his newspapers before he reads them. If someone did, he would ask for a new one. It was a way of reminding people to respect him, despite his kindness towards everyone.
What did he like eating the most?
Madiba loved traditional food... the kind of food he grew up eating. It reminded him of his mother's cooking. Umphokoqo (maize meal porridge and sour milk), Umngqusho (samp and beans) and Umleqwa (organic, farmed chicken) were his favourites. Whenever he ate umngqusho, he would make a hole in the centre of his plate to pour sauce, and he would expect the people dining with him to follow suit.
You have impressed many personalities with your culinary skills. Tell us more about it.
All of Madiba's guests were humble and warm, including former US President Bill Clinton, media mogul Oprah Winfrey and singer Michael Jackson. They would come inside the kitchen to say 'thank you' after a meal. I couldn't believe that such iconic people were capable of such humility.
Tell us about your journey prior to working with Madiba.
Like most South Africans, who came from a poor background, I began my professional life as a domestic worker. However, I was passionate about food. When I got the opportunity to enroll at a cooking school, I jumped at it. I got my first job as a chef at the Coronation Hotel in Johannesburg. It was a great training ground. Then, a friend recommended me to Madiba.
Do you like Indian cuisine?
This is my first trip to India and I am very excited. The two countries have a lot in common. Indians are humble and spiritual, like most South Africans. I'm excited about visiting the land that brought us spices. Indian cuisine is one of the best in the world. I believe that you haven't lived until you've tried aromatic Indian cuisine.
Mandela’s favourite dishes: