Abigail Mbalo is the dental technologist turned master chef – almost literally, in fact – and with her burning passion for trying to make a change, she represents the new, forward-thinking South Africa.
For being such a top-level restaurant, 4Roomed eKasi Culture, is located in a rather unusual place: the township of Khayelitsha, just outside Cape Town. There is a fascinating story behind this, one which you will get to hear when you visit the restaurant, so we won’t spoil your experience. Short version though: a few years ago, Abigail participated in South African Masterchef where she made it to the final. That inspired her to leave her beloved – and secure – job to give herself full freedom as a creative entrepreneur and chef. The most prominent result is 4Roomed eKasi Culture, where she celebrates the township cooking she grew up with. The restaurant has quickly become a lauded option for foodies around Cape Town with several prestigious awards and nominations to its name. And it has been a platform for Abigail to expand her business further, with constantly new things happening.
She is by no means alone in her endeavour. It is very much a family affair, with her husband Sam deeply involved in the various projects – although perhaps not so much in the actual cooking. Together they are constantly working to develop their business while at the same time bringing something back to the community and promote South Africa’s townships as a perfectly viable alternative for local and foreign visitors to experience.
“There is a lack of positive role models in the townships today. Many people will grab the first opportunity to leave and move to more affluent suburbs or to the city centre. We did that too, before deciding to come back. My thinking today is quite the opposite: I want to develop what we have here, showcase it and help build a sustainable industry with local entrepreneurs within craft food, arts and culture. If I myself can be a role model through what I do, I’ll be very happy to.”
She says that the hope for South Africa lies in its people. Particularly the young generation, sometimes referred to as born frees: those who never experienced apartheid or the struggle for freedom. Their political perspectives are likely to be very different from their parent’s, something which might play a significant role in the upcoming elections this May.
“If I look at the 25 years we have had since democracy was introduced, I must say that I am disappointed. Disappointed in our administration, and in what I hear about corruption. If the work was done properly from the start, we could have been so much further. That’s what drives me in trying to do something. I can’t just pretend that everything is ok, that I just earn a salary and don’t contribute. There is still hope, but that’s thanks to the citizens, not the leaders.”