What you Can Learn about Turning Passion into Profit from Celebrity Chef and Businesswoman Siba Mtongana

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From cooking in her family home in the township of Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape, to cooking on the television screens of millions of people in 150 different countries, including most recently the US on The Cooking Channel to over 60 million in the States alone, Chef Siba Mtongana has turned her passion for food into a serious brand and business.

Mtongana stars in the cooking show, Siba’s Table. The Food Network series debuted in September 2015, airing in over 90 countries across Africa, Europe, Middle East, Australia and Asia.

It’s not surprising that Mtongana’s favourite chef is Jamie Oliver, an English chef who she has said she admires for what he has achieved with his brand and for turning a passion for food into a business.

I am my name; I cannot divorce my name from myself

Mtongana is the founder of The Siba Co, a consultancy services company for food-related business ventures. The company, according to Brand South Africa recently announced that they will soon work in partnership with the South African Airways carrier’s in-flight catering facility to create a ‘Sibalicious’ menu for business class passengers on international flights. She is the first female chef to take on this feat.

Mtongana in 2016 self-published her cook book, My Table, which includes some of her favourite recipes from the show through The Siba Co.

A history of business

Mtongana studied Food and Consumer Sciences at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town.

Her entrepreneurial streak started from a young age: as a child she sold boerewors rolls at school and at university, she also supplied baked goods to a local shop.

She started out her career as a food editor at Drum magazine, in March 2011 she got the opportunity to star in her first television show called Drum Presents Cooking With Siba.

The programme won a South African Film & Television Award (SAFTA) in 2013 for Best Lifestyle and Variety show.

In 2014, Mtongana joined the debut season of Chopped SA as one to the main judges.

The business of food – here’s what we can learn from Chef Siba Mtongana does business:

Never stop reinventing your brand, business

In an interview with Business Day TV, Mtongana says she works with her brand management team to help reinvent her brand. “For instance we want to tell people there’s more to Siba than just the kitchen. I have a very strong academic background and business background and that’s what we are going towards,” she said.

Mtongana has been a public speaker at various business events. She also works with brands like Col’Cacchio and is an ambassador for Foodbank South Africa since 2013.

Protect your name, your brand

Mtongana shared in the same  Business Day TV interview that she is involved in all aspects of The Siba Co. “I am my name; I cannot divorce my name from myself.”

She added: “I need longevity, I need for my name to stand in future. Sometimes I find that people act reckless with your brand, your business because they’re only there for a certain period of time.

“I have to make sure it (my brand) keeps me forever. So I have to protect that.”

Stay up to date with trends

Mtongana believes all entrepreneurs need to be at the top of their game when it comes to their chosen industry and its trends. “You need to be informed. You need to be at the forefront of your game,” she said to Youngpreneur Media.

“Keep yourself knowledgeable on what’s happening on locally and internationally as well, because we are a global community.”

When Mtongana worked as Food Editor at Drum years ago, she says they saw a decline in print media. She suggested to her management that they experiment with their food pages. She introduced the concept of cooking with celebrities and it became a huge hit with readers.

This led to the television show, Drum Presents Cooking With Siba.

I have proper structures in place to allow me to be a busy bee

Listen to feedback as it can lead to your next opportunity

According to Mtongana, after hearing from overseas viewers visiting Cape Town that they would like to sample her food she began giving small cooking classes. She says she is also planning on launching restaurants after receiving numerous enquiries.

Her book, My Table, was also inspired by fans, a mother told her that her nine-year-old daughter was looking for a cook book by Mtongana, who didn’t have one at the time. She paid attention to the demand and released her first book.

Mtongana told the SABC News that her cook book was the bestselling cookbook in the history of Woolworths.

Have a support system

In the same Business Day TV interview Mtongana said she leans on her team for support, “We have an agent who does my diary and does all the negotiations for jobs. We have a Business Manager who finds certain jobs for me for the brand. We also have a brand management team which runs the brand and what focus we need to go to.”

She added: “At home I have a stay in nanny and my sister that is not too far from us in case I need to drop off the kids. I have proper structures in place to allow me to be a busy bee.”

Mtongana also said that her husband is her Chief Encouragement Officer (her biggest supporter) and he is hands on with their four children.

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Melissa Javan
Melissa Javan
Melissa Javan is a writer with nine years' experience in the media industry. She enjoys blogging and taking part in Twitter chats. You can find her on Twitter @melissa_nel.