Passionate about sensory experiences, chef, culinary artist and menu stylist Mantis Shabane shares what she loves most
Whether she’s curating the menu of Breezeblock restaurant in Johannesburg or hosting the Junior Chefs’ Fun Day (a monthly event with a cooking workshop and interactive activities for kids), Shabane exudes a great amount of cool in her chef’s jacket.
She was born in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, a place she describes as a little gem with picturesque Victorian architecture, and Shabane’s been cooking for as long as she can remember. However, she first studied journalism and worked in the telecommunications industry before pursuing a culinary career.
‘I was always hosting dinners and enjoying foodrelated activities as a hobby,’ she says. ‘Although I was doing well in my job for a huge motor company, I was extremely unhappy.’ It took her mother reminding her that – throughout everything she’d done in her life – food has always been her happy place for her to quit her corporate gig and pursue a culinary career.
Mantis Shabane sees food as a limitless art form with no boundaries. ‘I could be industrial and smoking huge cuts of meats one day and then making delicate, pretty cakes the next,’ she says. One of the things that excites her most is getting glimpses of different people and their first reaction when she places a dish in front of them and they take their first bite. ‘It’s an experience that’s incredibly gratifying.’ Her favourite quote by chef Julia Child afirms this: ‘Cooking is like love – it should be entered into with abandon or not at all’.
Five Things Mantis Shabane Loves
This city is like a tree filled with ripe juicy apples for the picking. There are so many opportunities here – you just have to find your apple, pick it and take a big bite.
2. Bambo Sibiya
Sibiya is doing amazing work and is one of my favourite artists at the moment, especially from a lithographic perspective. He is also a previous winner of the prestigious Gerard Sekoto Award.
The bold use of fragrant aromatics like cumin, coriander, cinnamon and ginger makes Moroccan food my favourite. Lamb, chickpeas and tagines with good pita bread will have me smiling from ear to ear! In culinary school, you learn about cuisines of the world, which are mostly European. I took it upon myself to learn and cook more African cuisines, and Morocco absolutely owns my heart.
4. A Smeg fridge
This is something that’s definitely on my decor wish list. Smeg is a classic brand that’s had some incredible collaborations with the likes of Dolce & Gabbana. Who wouldn’t want a designer fridge?
5. Gallery MOMO
I believe that this gallery has played a major role in the growth of black-owned art spaces in South Africa, like Map Contemporary Art and Stop Sign. Art galleries have historically been exclusive, with black people mostly being seen as artists in white-owned galleries. I’m excited about the transition that’s taking place in the country and the world, and I feel that Gallery MOMO has made an impact in inspiring aspiring black gallery owners.
Photographs: Courtesy of Gallery MOMO, photo by Kleinjan Groenewald; GalloImages/GettyImages/Alamy