FINANCIER TURNED CHEF LENTSWE BHENGU SERVES UP AFRICA ON A PLATE
Meet TV personality and Chef Lentswe Bhengu, making waves in South Africa’s culinary space as the host of the widely loved TV series “Africa on a Plate”.
Passionate about African food, the cultures that inspire its preparation and intentional celebration of African heritage, Lentswe Bhengu is an avid, ever curious traveller who is scaling the continent to explore the evolving African lifestyle landscape. The result has been nothing short of exciting and eye-opening for Lentswe, as he discovers authentic traditional dishes, while exploring the use of spices and ingredients and their symbolism to the wider African culture.
“My style of cooking is definitely a blend and I say this because of where I come from. As a people, we are a unique blend of different cultures. My brand and my message are really about celebrating contemporary Africa; an Africa that pays homage to its own people, culture and traditions but also accepts outside influences,” says Lentswe.
Born and bred in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, Lentswe spent five years in the investment finance industry at a business development level, working with companies such as Old Mutual, Allan Gray, and more. However, it was in the kitchen, playing around with his tools of the culinary trade that he truly found his zest for life. The financier turned Chef openly weighs in on how his sense of fulfillment evolved when he decided to go at life his way and on his terms.
Lentswe’s call to the culinary world
“I worked for a few banks and finally after moving around the country between Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg, I found myself back in the Cape working as an Investment Portfolio Manager for a government agency.
I was flying all around the world sourcing direct foreign investment for the province, yet still here I was filling relatively unfulfilled. I had a lot but, but I wasn't happy,” recounts Lentswe.
“I remember having a chat with my father and he gave the best advise that would change my life forever. ‘In order to achieve success Lentswe, start focusing on being better at the things that you shine at, things that make you happy, and that are positive in your life,’ he said. After this chat, a week later, I went to my senior manager and resigned from corporate life.”
In 2010 Lentswe exchanged his suit and tie for a chef jacket and enrolled at the prestigious Culinary Academy in the Cape Winelands. He later graduated as a professional chef underwritten by City & Guilds.
From then on, he worked his way up in the food industry, enjoying opportunities such as those awarded to him when he joined fine dining establishments like the Savoy Cabbage, The Roundhouse Restaurant, Saucisse Deli and a number of catering companies in and around Cape Town & Durban.
Chef turned TV personality
Lentswe is not only a creative and culinary enthusiast in the kitchen but also has a keen interest in exploring life in front of the camera.
Having taken a liking to the arts back in high school, Lentswe carried that passion with him and combined it with his love for food. These two passions came together when he started producing his own YouTube videos, back in 2012.
“This content was seen by the Hollywood execs at the Africa Channel and subsequently the first season of Africa On A Plate was commissioned and my newly formed TV production house "Green Zebra Production" was born. We filmed 21 episodes across Africa in total.” Lentswe propelled from being a chef to a TV personality and content creator, curate online food content including weekly recipes, videos, and blogs for the site. Africa on a Plate is the channel’s flagship programme and airs weekly to over 10 million homes across the US, Canada, Caribbean, and Australia. The show is currently in its second season and is now also on the BET Channel and accessible all over the African continent.
Since then Lentswe has worked on ‘Taste Africa’, which focused on fine dining cuisine and celebrating African Heritage, while maintaining the authenticity of the experience. The show is hosted in different cities throughout South Africa, exploring African cuisine to the discerning foodie palate. Lentswe also does regular appearances on SABC’s Expresso as a guest chef. He is a regular Master of Ceremony and invited Chef to food festivals, events and expos, with his most recent opportunity to add to his growing portfolio being named a Celebrity Chef for the Cape Town Good Food and Wine Show for four years running. Lentswe has garnered much acclaim as a mastermind in the kitchen and a golden celebrity chef on TV with a passion to showcase his culture and creativity to the world. Through his many ventures, such as the Flavours of Africa, where he successfully curated the first ever fully African Food focused exhibition, Lentswe always manages to engage well with the crowd, charming them with his talent and dazzling personality.
His ambition continues to nurture his passion for food and media, bringing the best of South Africa’s culinary experiences to viewers, while simultaneously discovering and celebrating its complexities.
“The South African food scene is a melting pot of different cultures and a variety of cuisines, which makes it all an adventure that awaits our indulgence and exploration. We have been vastly influenced by Indian cuisines and spices through the Indian Spice route on our South Eastern Coast for instance.
The Dutch colonial era also played a big part in impacting our palate and some of the food choices we now have at our disposal. What it means to me as a chef, is that we still have a big job in discovering, documenting, and showcasing our food types and preparation methods, uplifting it to world stages.”
Lentswe’s favorite meal is a Wild Mushroom with Lamb dish. Having been brought up on the East Coast of Durban, Lentswe also has a love for food that is infused with Indian cuisine such as the bunny chow, a popular meal from that region, as well as Lamb Vindaloo.
However homely, more traditional foods are the comfort for him. “I enjoy the traditional meals I grew up eating because they remind me of my upbringing and its rootedness in our culture. Some meals I jazz up and modernise like samp, but others like ipapa (soft maize meal) must stay true to their origin. I also love wild vegetables, like Morogo and Spinach. Amadumbe (yams) are also a childhood favorite as my mom always made them as a snack on weekends,” shares Lentswe.
Check out more of Lentswe’s food experiences by tuning in to his shows or following him across social media under his self-titled handles.