South Africa’s charismatic anti-apartheid leader and former president Nelson Mandela inspired devotion from many, including his longtime chef who says she often spends more time with his family than her own. Xoliswa Ndoyiya wants her children to understand what she is doing when she’s away from them, so she wrote a cookbook with dozens of the recipes her famous boss likes most.
“He’s such a wonderful man and he’s so disciplined. He’s a father figure. He always made me feel comfortable even as an employee,” said Ndoyiya about working for the iconic leader.
She was surrounded by her proud family at an event in Johannesburg today to mark the launch of her book “Ukutya Kwasekhatya (Home Food): Tastes from Nelson Mandela’s Kitchen.” It is a collection of more than 60 recipes for traditional Xhosa dishes such as umsila wenkomo (oxtail soup), amasi (sour milk), dombolo (dumplings). She told ABC News the one meal everyone should try when they visit her country is lamb tripe with umngqushu.
“Definitely!” she said with a broad smile.
Ndoyiya knows not everyone is adventurous enough for tripe (stomach lining), but she did include in her book the recipe for the more widely palatable umngqushu (spiced corn and beans). Previously, she has shared her recipe for a simple but beloved dish called umphokogo.
As a young woman from a rural township in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Ndoyiya never imagined she would one day hold such an important job. Not only does she feed her country’s most famous statesman and his family, she also often cooks for Mandela’s guests, who have included celebrities like Michael Jackson and Oprah Winfrey.
Her triumph didn’t come without tragedy. Shortly before the end of apartheid in the 1990s, her husband was shot to death in fighting between competing political parties. Her second husband died in a car crash. In 1992, she was working as a cook at a Jewish nursing home in Johannesburg to support her children, when word of her culinary skills got around to Mandela’s staff. She says Mandela asked her if she could cook traditional Xhosa food, and when she replied “I cook ukutya kwasekhaya (home food),” she was hired on the spot.
Mandela’s great-grandson, Luvuyo Mandela, spoke at the book launch on behalf of the family. He was emotional as he told the audience Ndoyiya was “more than someone who prepared meals, she was a parent.”
Ndoyiya called Nelson Mandela her “parent and leader,” and said there is a secret ingredient that had made the difference in her two decades of cooking for him.
“The secret is love. I cook food with love,” said Ndoyiya.
She also stressed the importance of preparing mostly healthy meals. Ndoyiya was presented with a framed copy of the book and letter of thanks from Mandela who was not able to attend. The 93-year-old retired from public life in 2004 and no longer makes public appearances. Ndoyiya’s cookbook is expected to be available in the United States within a few months.
ABC News’ Sifiso Khanyile contributed to this report