Chef Jelele: Using Future Africa gardens to create unique dishes

Mokhine Jelele is an accomplished and respected chef in the hospitality industry. His 20-year journey as a chef has seen him work in some of the most prestigious hotels, which include the Rezidor group, the Orion Hotel Group, Protea Hotels by Marriott, the Sheraton Pretoria Hotel and the popular Woolworths Taste magazine. Chef has also tried his hand at running his own business.

Mokhine was born in MMakau, in the North-West province of South Africa. Growing up, Mokhine never dreamt that he would ever make a career out of cooking food. He had no interest in the hospitality industry; his dream career was to become a lawyer, thanks to the American true crime anthology TV series, Law & Order.

The change in the choice of career came after seeing one of his cousins who was working as a chef. He envied the direction his cousin’s life had taken and he desired the same for himself. The desire for financial independence as his cousin led him to a career in the hospitality industry as a chef and as the saying goes, the rest is history. 

Chef Jelele received his trained at North West Culinary School as a chef. Soon thereafter, he got an internship at the Pretoria International Show Grounds. Chef Jelele has worked very hard, rising slowly through the ranks to get to where he is today.

Through his career in the hospitality industry, Jelele has managed to accomplished several accolades. These include winning the title of the restaurant of the Year in the Tabasco Challenge in 2009; competing in the popular Food Network TV show, Chopped South Africa in 2011; competing in the 2011 Unilever Chef of the Year regionals; and winning the title of Employee of the Year for the Rezidor group in 2011. Chef Jelele also serves as a qualified culinary judge for the South African Chefs Association.

Coming to work for Future Africa was based on the desire for a different challenge. He was looking for something that would help him move out of his comfort zone. Chef admits that working for an academic institution is not something that any Chef aspires to do. 

Future Africa has not disappointed in offering the challenge he was after. It has provided him the opportunity to incorporate ingredients that he would never have thought of using in a hotel or restaurant environment. The opportunity to create dishes using the indigenous African plants growing in the Future Africa gardens has been a learning curve for Chef who trained in the Western culinary style of cooking. 

Chef takes a walk through the garden every day with the horticulturist to learn about the different plants and their uses in food. He has also made suggestions for other crops that can be planted to increase the diversity of ingredients that he can use to make more dishes that are interesting.

The menus and recipes that Chef makes in Future Africa are unique and different from any of the establishments that he has worked in before. Chef Jelele walks the garden each morning with his team of trainee Chefs to find new and interesting plants to use in his preparations for the day. He is excited about the prospects of being able to prepare meals using ingredients fresh from the garden. He says it is far from the environment where he previously operated in where he depended on what the supplier found, meaning that he had no control over the freshness.

Apart from using the ingredients in the garden, he is also trying out dishes from different parts of Africa to cater to the different patrons from all over Africa that visit Future Africa. He has already received approvals for the creativity in his African cuisines. He is working on adding more African dishes using different ingredients.

He is looking forward to the challenges that Future Africa presents in terms of the type of clientele that he has to impress. He is also looking for more room to grow and explore through collaborations with researchers and students from the Department of Consumer and Food Science.

His advice to the upcoming Chefs is to be curious, look for possibilities everywhere because nothing is impossible until you have tried.

Different varieties of herb breads prepared fresh using herbs from the Future Africa gardens.