'I am true to myself' - Siba Mtongana on breaking new barriers in the food and hospitality space

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Siba Mtongana.
Siba Mtongana.

She’s a game-changer, trendsetter, innovator, educator, creator and curator who has gone where others fear to tread. 

“I love the road less travelled; it keeps me fired up,” says award-winning chef, culinary expert and author Siba Mtongana, as she lets us in on her life. 

Well known for her cookbook Welcome to My Table, plus her Cooking with Siba show on Mzansi Magic, and Siba’s Table on Food Network, Siba is a force to be reckoned with; a household name who has inspired a new wave of black foodies and chefs in South Africa and Africa.

She has made culinary arts trendy, and there’s no stopping her as she keeps making her mark on our shores and world stages. She is not only about cooking, but also about delivering unforgettable experiences and innovation. 

I am true to myself and I believe in my God-given dreams and aspirations
Siba Mtongana


Just last November, Siba celebrated yet another feat when she became a case study at the prestigious Harvard Business School in Boston, USA. This is just a sign of the impact she has made over the years in the food space.

“I am true to myself and I believe in my God-given dreams and aspirations – which many may see as bravery or courage! I love growth and hate stagnation. I understand that the process is often different from what I envisioned, but I always remind myself of the main goal when things get really hard,” she shares. 

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Judging by what Siba has achieved over the years and the impact she continues to make, she is the epitome of black excellence. She admits she used to struggle with the notion of “black excellence”, because it gave praise to what she thought ought to be something normal, usual and expected in our society – a nation of people who thrive.

“I disliked the thought that we are highly praised for something – excellence often attached to achievement – that is usual and expected in other races. However, I understand where we, as a black nation, come from and where the majority of us are right now. I also understand the challenges we have had to overcome, to be where we are,” Siba says.

Siba Mtongana.

She adds that, over time, her perception of black excellence has changed, and instead of being opposed to it, she sees it as a positive internal code we use to ‘high five’ each other in celebration of a brother or a sister who is breaking barriers in areas where they were previously not allowed to be.

“I like a definition I found in an article once, that said: black excellence is an acknowledgement that we need to find smart ways to constantly lift ourselves (and our communities, especially economically) until we are out of a place that has disadvantaged us for hundreds of years.”

“To add to that, it is the understanding that my achievements are not only my own, but for all those watching who then get inspired to break barriers in their own industries. My ideals of achievement and excellence are not only to be applauded by my fellow black nation but to capture the attention of the world at large.” 


Siba’s journey has been exciting, even though she has come across some bumps along the road to success. Her love for the world she has immersed herself into, started as a young child at home where she was given room to grow.

“This gave me the confidence to pursue a professional career in food,” she says. This was followed by a four-year bachelor’s degree in Food and Consumer Sciences and formal culinary training, where she acquired her chef skills, knowledge and expertise.

I have been in the industry long enough to know not to share my plans sooner than I need to, for many reasons
Siba Mtongana

Siba enjoyed a lecturing gig before joining the legendary DRUM magazine as food editor. She later left the magazine to go and work for herself. She opened The Siba Co, a food solutions and innovations company, which owns the brand Siba Mtongana and everything related to it – be it cooking shows, books, products, food consultations, and event appearances. 


With six international awards to her name, it is no wonder that today Siba is a proud owner of a restaurant, Siba The Restaurant, at the Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town. It was a natural progression and although it launched last year, she says it is a journey that started five years ago. 

“The people I went into business with at the time were not good for my brand, so I decided to protect the brand and pull out. In hindsight, I see so much protection from what I thought were unnecessary delays and hurdles. I am grateful that things have happened this way.” 

Siba says she is constantly approached by landlords and developers to open a restaurant in their properties. Two opportunities came in 2019 in Cape Town and Joburg, but then Covid-19 hit in March in 2020 and both projects were derailed and put on hold.

Siba Mtongana.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” she sighs, adding that it was protection as she would have suffered great losses from the investment because of the hard lockdown restrictions that saw restaurants barred from operating for such a long time.

“Towards the end of 2020, I decided that I was still going to pursue my dream. I had the courage and went for it. The response has been phenomenal and now we are busy expanding the restaurant.” 

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There is a lot on Siba’s plate, but it is clear that she can handle it all. There are many plans in the pipeline, but she refuses to divulge the details for now. “Listen,” she says.

“I have been in the industry long enough to know not to share my plans sooner than I need to, for many reasons. So, my lips are sealed until the next thing hits. Follow me on social media – especially on Instagram and Facebook @sibamtongana – as that’s where I communicate what’s next.” 

"The reason I left formal employment was to have flexibility in order to start a family and to build a stronger financial portfolio"
Siba Mtongana

Smart and strategic, Siba admits that her entrepreneurial spirit has helped her to be agile and adapt to change, tenacious in hard times, and savvy and sharp so as to know when to jump at the right opportunities and which ones to say no to.

“I’m very clear on my brand, what I do, what I’m all about, and where I’m going. My introduction to the local and international markets was food. I grew and expanded with this topic, which positioned me to be an expert and go-to person even on academic matters related to it,” she boasts. 


In the midst of everything, Siba is a wife and a mom of four. But how does she make time for her family and her growing business empire?

“The reason I left formal employment was to have flexibility in order to start a family and to build a stronger financial portfolio. So, my family still comes first. That doesn’t mean I’m always there, but can be flexible and act in whichever way I need to for their benefit,” she says with a smile. 

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