South African Thabo Phake is making a name for himself as a talented chef, inspired by Africa. Only 21 years old, he is currently based in Abuja, Nigeria, where he consults for various restaurants while building up his own personal brand. He’s well-positioned to do just that - show the world what Africa has to offer not only when it comes to music, beauty and fashion, but also true African cuisine, representative of the whole continent.
Thabo believes that Africans are becoming more open to preparing and sampling authentic food from across Africa, one of the things that’s driving interest in the topic. “More and more chefs are now prone to appreciating their culture and past rather than before when the majority of African chefs were less receptive of it. There are ingredients that have taught me how broad African food is. For instance, there's an ingredient made from tiger nut milk called Kunu and it's more or less like what we know back home as Mageo," he states.
Thabo’s career commenced as a trainee at The Michelangelo in Sandton, Johannesburg. This platform launched him into formal studies. He completed a qualification at the Johannesburg Culinary and Pastry School, located in Maboneng in Johannesburg’s inner city. When it came to his internship to complete his course, he chose to do his time at The Cube Tasting Kitchen (now known as Est Est Alea), where the focus was on French gastronomic cuisine.
Armed with a culinary qualification and some solid time in the kitchen, he ventured off to go and work at Urbanologi, an award-winning restaurant that combines unpretentiousness and elegance, a concept they call ‘urban garde’, in other words, urban street food but inspired by an avant-garde thought process. Here, in a rustic setting, they experiment with typical Asian street food techniques, offering a tapas-style menu featuring delicious Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese flavours and ingredients. The place is a vibe on its own, and is widely regarded as one of Africa’s best bars.
Having met many of Johannesburg’s elite during his time in various Johannesburg kitchens, he left Urbanologi to venture out on his own as a private chef. This led him to an opportunity to travel to Abuja in Nigeria to consult as a head chef for CF1 Café. No based here, he often goes to Nigeria’s capital city, Lagos, and other cities and towns, to offer his expertise to other restaurants. He’s looking to settle in Nigeria, intent on opening his own restaurant here, telling his uniquely African story to the world through culinary arts.