Neo Nontso is a South African self taught chef and businesswoman best known for her online food business Dine With Neo and company DWN Herbs & Spices.
Tell us more about your background growing up?
I was born in Mthatha and raised in East London. I grew up in a big family and food was a major part of our culture. We always shared meals on the table together like breakfast in the mornings just before school and lunch in the afternoons after school where we would compete to see who would make the biggest sandwich! Those were truly my favorite years.
How did your journey to become a chef come about? When did your love affair with food start?
My mother and her sisters LOVE cooking. I’d always watch them in the kitchen and unconsciously pick up a skill or two every single time. When I moved to Johannesburg and had to stay alone, I did all the exploring with the knowledge I had from home. I’d go to restaurants to taste almost everything then rush back home to recreate it all! My love and passion grew exponentially during this time. I would travel to different cities, sometimes even countries, just to taste different foods from different cultures. Knowledge and understanding of food was my main priority.
What inspired the birth of DWN Herbs & Spices?
I was inspired by everyone that loved and tried my recipes! Many spices I use in my recipes aren’t always available in all stores. I figured that this was because the South African food culture hadn’t evolved much into spices for flavor, but rather raw ingredients like an onion as opposed to onion powder. This gave me the urge to create a brand like DWN, that not only introduced you to different flavors, but also inspired you to cook and share the same love I have for food.
What are your first favourite memories in the kitchen?
Chinese! When I started exploring in the kitchen I used to make ALOT of Chinese food. Every single day it was me and soy sauce lol! Every time I have Chinese it’s always so nostalgic.
What’s the most memorable place you’ve ever eaten at?
Barcelona, I travelled all the way there to taste Spanish cuisine and eat all the food I could find, from Michelin star restaurants to street food served in the market. One thing about the Spanish is that everything is always so fresh and the people are so kind. I highly recommend it.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
DWN Herbs and Spices is my greatest achievement to date. I never thought I’d be 25 years old with an entire spice range. God has really blessed me!
Three ingredients you can’t live without?
Onion, garlic, chili. This is a standard in my kitchen and in most of my recipes.
What is your number one kitchen rule?
ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS! I wash my hands almost every 10 minutes when cooking. Hygiene is so important.
What would be your last supper?
Oxtail, samp and beans, vegetables and a cold glass of Stoney.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs when they first start working in the industry?
There are many different types of chefs and home cooks. Examples of these involve : Celebrity cooks like myself, professional chefs that work at hotels and restaurants, chefs/cooks that do private catering, pastry chefs etc. Find out what kind of chef you want to be and focus on that. Focusing on one niche will save you so much time. Every niche has enough room for more people that’ll become successful in it.
What are your thoughts of the current food trends in South Africa?
South Africa is evolving when it comes to food. Everyone is cooking more than before. It’s become “popular”. I’m enjoying it because we’re creating a different perspective on who can cook and who cannot. It’s really good to be here!
What is next for Neo?
Retail, retail, retail. Not everyone has access to internet or even a credit card. Shopping online can only service a certain amount of people. I cannot wait to have my products listed on bigger platform where everyone can access them.
You can follow me on
Twitter : @NeoNontso
Instagram : DineWithNeo