Koketso Rakobela is a chef, but a look at her Instagram account would have you thinking she’s a foodie influencer. She has a mouth-watering sense of style, a good taste in art and comes off authentic as a plate of pap and inyama ye ntloko. But in the culinary streets, she’s christened herself with a moniker which gives more insight into who she is-The Brown Chef.
“Brown Chef came about when I realized just how much I love the colour and tone of my skin. I wanted to make it known somehow that I love being brown, and I’m a chef. So, that’s how Brown Chef came about,” Rakobela tells me.
While the Dorah Sitholes, Gordon Ramsays and Nigella Lawsons utilized traditional media to grow their brands through TV shows and print publications, today’s cooks use social media to promote their work-which gives them more authority in the curation of their content- and are seemingly more mindful about being brands.
“I’ve always been a creative person, but I think I wasn’t quite sure as to where I was headed with the creativity. I don’t want to limit myself to just being in the kitchen. I want to see myself do everything that I’m passionate about i.e. photography, modelling and a whole lot of other things which I won’t reveal just as yet,” says the ambitious chef. “If I’m not in the kitchen, I’m in front of the camera shooting pictures of myself that have a conceptual meaning of some sort to them- depending on how I’m feeling.”
Rakobela’s appreciation for art is palpable in her dishes and her photography. “I love colour and vibrance [sic], so yes, art does have a huge influence on my craft. Art is everywhere, and almost everything is art its own form. As much as an artist can show emotion in a song/painting, a chef can evoke the same feeling or tell a certain story on a plate. My most favourite part of cooking is plating-and that’s the best way to showcase food/cooking as an art form”
Italian cuisine holds a special place in her heart-any type of pasta with a lot of cheese go down very well with her. But her palate isn’t colonized by “sophisticated” foods. True to her rich melanin, she enjoys bogobe ka mašotša le morogo or simple beef stew with pap, morogo and some atchar on the side. Her cooking skills are varied as her taste.
“I’m an all-rounder in the kitchen! In culinary school, I studied both Food Prep [hot kitchen] and Patisserie. Both of them have different moods they give, but because I love the rush and work well under pressure, I’d say I’m a hot kitchen chef.”
After completing her studies in 2018 at Capsicum Culinary Studio, she was fortunate to bag an internship in the US. “I left my home country on pure intent of just going to cook and learn about everything that has to do with just cooking,” she says. While there she lived in Boston and then later went to Phoenix. “But, it turned somewhat into a personal adventure. I got to meet kind people; got to learn and experience other cultures; and I somehow got to ‘find myself.'”
As beautiful as it’s been to see people cooking up a storm in their homes during the lockdown, it hasn’t been so nice for actual chefs who do this for a living. Like most industries, the culinary space has also been dealt a hard blow. “It’s a tough and competitive industry in itself, so to see businesses close due to the lockdown is just putting more strain on the industry. Taking into consideration, also, the fact that South Africa is still growing in the culinary industry, the lockdown has just suppressed the growth,” says Rakobela.
Bleak as these times are, The Brown Chef still has dreams of owning a boutique hotel someday. “Being able to groom and teach young and upcoming chefs the principles and lessons that I would have learned in my years of being in the industry, in my own kitchen, would be the pinnacle of my career.”