Isn’t it so annoying when you follow someone’s blog or YouTube channel or even TV show, you fall in love with them, you hang on their every word. You fantasize about meeting them, you actually look forward to it. They are super charming when you watch them or read them so they must be so nice and charming in person right? Then you meet them and they are the coldest people ever. You wonder WTF happened to the charmer you fell in love with?! It is the most annoying thing because I end up feeling played, like I wasted my time being a fan and most times I can not be bothered to continue supporting this person.
When I heard that Siba Mtongana was in Nairobi, I was so worried about going to meet her. One reason is because I get a bit shy with strangers but mostly because I really admire her and I was really wondering what kind of person she is. My quest to get in touch with Siba Mtongana started a few months ago. I had been looking for a way to get in touch with her through email. I had really tried and given up for a while when I received an email last week but one saying that she was coming to town. To say I was ecstatic would not even do my feelings justice. I emailed the organisers and ended up getting my RSVP after everyone else did! sema stress!! Anyway I got an invite plus a few more for foodies and I got an interview with SIBA!!
I met Siba Mtongana in Nairobi on the 11th of Aug 2016 before the This is Africa launch. We had an almost hour long interview and she was everything I have ever imagined and a bag of chips. She is so beautiful in person. Even more than she is on TV. And not only is she a stunner physically, she is also such a beautiful person.
She has beautiful eyes that she speaks with. Each time she talked about food they would twinkle, she was so warm. As we spoke I felt like she was an old friend I had just reconnected with. I was no longer star struck I was comfortable with my buddy. I sat there wishing Siba Mtongana would be Nairobi more often and we would sit and catch up over canapes and cocktails about how our businesses are growing and what we could do to make them better. Sigh! if wishes were horses…..
Here is the interview I had with Siba Mtongana when she was in Nairobi. I hope it inspires you as much as It did me.
- What is your first memory of cooking? I started observing my mother in the kitchen and I was fascinated by the chemistry of food, how food reacted to heat, to different ingredients. My mother also had a garden that my dad tended for her and I also liked to pick the spinach and bring it to the kitchen. She would then cook and add things like salt and I always asked her how she knew how much to add and she would always say ‘you feel it with your hands’ and I was like how do I feel it? hahah. Later I started to cook I must have been below 8 or 7 years. I once made brunch for the family and I burnt my relish and my eggs were messy. But my parents especially my dad told me ‘WOW my daughter the food was great you need to cook more’ then later they’d correct me and slowly I learnt more.
- Who or what do you attribute your love for cooking to? Other than my mom and aunties there are other people. Some I have met others I haven’t. There is Delia Smith, she was much older and she’d show you the basics and she taught you how to make things. Jamie Oliver who I believed I would marry and move to London to live with. HAHAH. The naked food days he was fun and easy to follow. Then there was Nigella Lawson. She made food fun and sexy. She made food exciting, there was glamour in food and women cooking. Mum Dora Sitole of Drum magazine who was the only black lady in the field I could refer to. My lecturer , Ina Paarmen, who branched out and started her own product line.
- Other than your mum who else have you learnt cooking from? Television was a big influence, my big sister too, my aunts, my big cousins. My lecturers too played a big role
- What steps have you taken in your life that you think got you to where you are? I have always gone against the grain. I chose to do a course that people thought was a joke. My parents did not believe it and I had to convince them to let me do it. They gave me one year to do the course and do it well and if I did not do it I would go back and do law. I have gone against he grain with publishing my own book when everyone thought I shouldn’t. You also need to question when need be, especially when you feel things aren’t going well. You need to believe in yourself and just do what you think is best. There are a lot of naysayers. Most of them just do not want you to get hurt but you need to believe in yourself and do what is best for you. It will work out.
- How do you create a work life balance? I have a hierarchy of what is important to me. God > Family > Work. That is how I balance it. God comes before everything else. Because of the nature of life sometimes I will find I give more time to Work than everything else. It is ok. If I give more time to family at one time, well and good, if I give more to God at one time even better. I have learnt not to beat my self up over what I am giving more time to at one point. It is a cycle as long as I am happy with my results then that’s good. I do spend a lot of time at home just that we do not document that a lot for obvious reasons. I also travel with them sometimes for work but not as much anymore as I feel if it affects me it must affect them. I have a great nanny and my sister doesn’t live so far off so they are well taken care off.
- As a woman would you say that starting a family and getting children has gotten in the way of your career? I must say I am a very blessed woman. I know that there are women who get children and they get laid off from work. I know a friend in South Africa after her maternity leave her position had been made redundant. This happens so many times. Working with Food Network has been a blessing. They always give me time when I need to get a baby. They got me right after I got married so definitely babies were the next thing. They are very flexible and I do not feel like my career has been affected at all. Food Network is based in the UK and is owned by Scripts international which is based in Europe so I get my leave days based on their laws which are very flexible and they are favorable to women. I have also been blessed that I had smooth pregnancies, I never had morning sickness or any other issues. I feel like God favoured me because of my work
- At what point in your Career did Siba stop being ‘Siba’ and you started looking at yourself as a business? I believe from the time I got a contract with Food Network I stopped looking at my self as a person and started looking as Siba as a company. I got people to work with me. I have an assistant who does my day to day calendar, helps me run both my personal life and business life, an agency that does all my appointments and negotiations. I have a team that helps with digital work etc. So even though I did not establish it as a company I did run my self like one. I recently started the Siba Co. that published my book.
- Did this make a difference in your career? Yes it definitely did. When you look at yourself as a business you give yourself more value. You will find that when someone asks you to do something as an individual it’s hard to give a rate but when the agency tells you what the going rate is at the moment and asks you to pick a price, it is a lot easier. I have also horned my negotiation skills with time as at the end of the day it is my business and I need to be able to do it by myself.
- How did you get into Food Network? Well that is an interesting story. I had a show before called Cooking with Siba. It had just started being aired in the UK. Turns out that around that time Food Network had been looking for someone to start a show with. They had interviewed over 400 people but hadn’t found what they were looking for. Once they saw my show they loved it and they called me. I was head hunted, I thought it was a Nigerian scam. But after the initial shock I was so excited and as they say the rest is history. It was just divine connection, it can not be explained. It was just God.
- What was your experience writing your book and how can Kenyans access it? It’s been amazing, especially because there were so many naysayers. People saying I couldn’t do it without a big publishing company, that there was no way I could publish my own book. It’s been an amazing journey and the response to it has been overwhelming. People send me photos from all over the world and the most amazing thing is that these are books bought locally in South Africa then shipped to friends and family. My book has been the best selling in Woolworths history. It wasn’t hard, it is a love project that is paying off. We are actually reprinting it at present. We are also in talks with international market.
- What meal does your husband like to eat? Anything I put on the table he likes. He loves salmon and grilled green with quinoa or cauliflower mash. We are currently trying to do low carb. Mama is trying to get her body back..hahahah
- Tell me about your involvement with This is Africa. They chose me because they wanted someone who is proudly African but had a global influence and success in order to inspire the youngsters. Someone who comes from Africa and is based in Africa because it is all about driving the African narrative and changing it to a more positive narative.