Mopati Busang, alias Chef Habana is known across Instagram for his innovative food posts that fuse world-class cooking with traditional Botswana signature techniques. He has garnered a celebrity following, aided in some part by his partnering with Sefalana. His most recent gig was the Notwane Cook Off held at Woodpecker, Notwane – an open fire cooking competition held annually under the theme ‘Tswana cuisine with a twist.’ Quite recently too, we had a chance to catch up with him and sample his exquisite food. The culinary whiz from Molepolole who also has a food column on The Patriot newspaper has since become celebrated for his adventurous Tswana inspired cuisine.
How would you describe yourself?
A lover of life, passionate about food and creating my own kind of dishes. I’m usually inspired by new people (food lovers) I meet and cook for.
Where were you born and where do you hail from?
I am a native of Molepolole but I hail from around the world – being an avid traveler and having visited a lot of places.
What’s sets you apart?
Gotta be my weirdness. I call it being my own kind of alien which is how I’ve come to learn to accept that I’m my own kind of person. I enjoy my own space, but yet again I enjoy a good crowd.
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
My mum said to me, ‘Never compare yourself to anyone because you don’t know how they have what they have or don’t have, how they got to where they are, because at the end of the day you create your own path in life’.
What do you listen to or do when you are looking for inspiration?
I’ll be jamming to Shekhinah to Joe Crocker – Sweet little woman and Black Coffee tunes. I have a multi-diverse ear really and I strongly believe in the kitchen one needs some soulful sounds to set the tone and keep the ambience flowing alongside the tasty aromas. Traveling inspires me whether in the bush as a bush chef or even fancy travels. I get inspired by meeting new people, learning their new tastes and dishes. I also enjoy a good read and food TV shows.
What’s the one thing you wish people knew about you?
I’m a little shy.
What can’t you live without?
I can’t live without food. I know everybody can’t live without food but I mean some really good soulful tasty dishes. I honestly can’t live without a visit to the kitchen or stove. That’s my weakness. Even when visiting someone, I honestly can’t resist a visit to the kitchen to land a hand.
How many of you are there in your family? Are you first born or last born? Tell me a little bit about your family?
I’m the only child actually. It’s just my mum and I as we lost my dad a couple of years ago, MHSRIP. For many years it’s been my mum and I, with my loving, supportive family and friends. I’ve never really felt like I’m the only child. Growing up I was my grandparents’ little darling, which is why I was even named after my grandpa (Batlang Busang) -MHSRIP. Since then, my grandma’s motherly love raised me into a fine young boy along with my parents and family. So yes I’m my ‘granny’s boy’ to this day. She’s my best friend. She lost her sight when I was still in primary school but that helped solidify our bond even stronger. My mum is also my best friend. If it wasn’t for her I don’t think I would be the man I am today. An amazing chef that I am.
What inspired you to become a private chef/dietician?
Growing up, I enjoyed a good crowd and hosting friends. I’d secretly try make certain dishes but I hid that as I didn’t want anyone knowing I had a thing for the kitchen. It was only later that I ditched my marketing career to pursue a passion raging inside my belly – the culinary arts. My mother being a lover of food got me even more interested in the culinary world. She motivated me together with her sister (aunt). Being a private chef always brings joy to my face – the absolute pleasure of watching them enjoy my dishes as well as my company in the kitchen. Being a dietician is something I’ve only started training for as I believe not only in yummy and tasty dishes but healthy meals too. No one ever said great, tasty yummy foods should be junk. As your favourite chef, I’m here to teach and share how best to enjoy great, yummy, healthy dishes.
How did your big break come about?
When I met great mentors such as Chef Earl Ramsay and Rico Carlinsky. These are the chaps who adopted me at Lansmore Masa hotel and I shall forever remain grateful and appreciate them.
Who is your role model and why?
I’ve always maintained I’m my own role model. This has always kept me wanting and hungry to chase my dreams and build a name for myself.
Do you eat nutritiously? How often do you exercise or go to the gym?
I cook and eat nutritiously. I don’t want to be that fat, oily, sweaty chef – no one wants that. I have to lead by example and that means keeping fit and eating healthy. However, I do have my own cheat day – the I eat what I want day. Yes, I do exercise and hit the gym whenever I can. I’ve always been an avid athlete since high school until varsity, where I was an active rugby player.
What has been your biggest or favourite highlight of your life or career so far?
Cooking a four course meal for Prince William and Prince Harry when they visited a camp I was stationed at in the Okavango Delta. That for me was beyond amazing and having to interact with them over food was truly humbling and majestic.
What other exciting gigs have you been involved with in the past?
Honestly I love sharing my cooking skills and tips with all food lovers so I’m always excited whenever I have to do a live cooking demo be it at events, expos, cooking classes and food shows. It’s always a pleasure seeing food lovers and people I don’t know, watch me do my thing. Just seeing their faces brighten up truly humbles me and gives me great joy. I’ve shared my food passion in the wilderness – be it in the delta, private farms, Khawa and Makgadikgadi epic.
Which countries have you travelled to so far, courtesy of your work and which ones were your favourite?
I have been so focused in my own beautiful country. I believe there’s so many hidden outdoor food adventures that I travel to with my clients. There have also been some outdoor food adventures in South Africa, wine festivals where I did my live cooking demos, whiskey & food pairing sessions in partnership with my fellow colleagues in South Africa.
How do you handle the pressure that comes with your work?
Having a thigh backbone and always remembering my roots as well as where I’m headed.Honestly, I don’t believe chefs are celebrities and they shouldn’t allow themselves to sink into that pressure. Our main focus should be in the kitchen, pleasing our clients and recreating delectable dishes.
What excites you the most about being a chef?
Creating new dishes, coming up with new and inspired menus with strangers. It’s a challenge I always look forward to achieving.
Life would be simpler if…
Chefs are appreciated even more.
What’s your typical weekday schedule?
Monday is my rest day after which I have meetings with clients throughout the week, discussing and preparing for upcoming events- be it corporate or private.
And your typical weekend?
Our weekends are predominantly work. If there’s no gig, we relax and catch up on some TV or simply visit my home town, Molepolole.
What are your favourite out-of-town escapades; tell us where do you usually go to and why?
I’m really a simple person but a lover of nature especially the wilderness. I find all this quite refreshing, meditational and fun. I enjoy horse riding out in Notwane, taking a drive out to Moremi Gorge, Khawa and Makgadikgadi.
Where do you enjoy shopping?
Any place where I can find a nice pair of comfortable jeans, a nice T-shirt or shirt. My greatest weakness is that I’d be in Woolies doing some groceries or stocking a few ingredients and I wouldn’t help but ‘reward’ myself with either a T-shirt or pair of jeans from their clothing section.
What superhuman power would you most like to have?
A trait where I could pull disappearing stunts from humans – like being invincible.
Something that no one knows about me is…
I’m such a romantic. Ha-ha! One with an old soul inside of me.
My motto is…
Find your passion and work hard towards it. Always make sure you infuse it into your lifestyle and it will undoubtedly love you back.
My simplest pleasure is…
water, either drinking, a bath or swimming.
My guiltiest pleasure is…
Spending most of my money on anything for the kitchen – kitchen ware.
The craziest fashion trend I have even followed is…
Piercing my ears to look cool!
What celebrity crushes did you have as a teenager?
That would be Meryl Streep, Jennifer Anniston and Julia Roberts. Such amazing beautiful ladies that have truly aged gracefully.
My biggest regret is…
I don’t live by regrets and I always take pride in everything that I have done.
Before I die, I’d like to…
Having gotten my own Michelin Star restaurant. The term “Michelin Star” is a hallmark of fine dining quality and restaurants around the world proudly promote their Michelin Star status. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay once cried when the Michelin Guide stripped the stars from his New York restaurant, calling the food “erratic.”
What surprises you most about adult life?
Our denial for love and wanting to be and feel loved.
My proudest moment was…
Becoming a professional chef.
What’s been your biggest life lesson in your career?
Great mannerism and humility goes a long way.
Any place where I can learn how best to improve my menus. However, Jamie’s Italian South Africa restaurant situated in the vibrant and sophisticated Melrose Arch Boulevard, Johannesburg is always a must visit for me.
Courvoisier VSOP neat or with a freshly squeezed lemon poured over ice and topped with ginger ale or tonic. Also, a Vanilla Chardonnay does it for me.
What are you listening to right now? Do you have a favourite Botswana artist; African artist and international artist?
Batho Bame Vatsay by ATI, Faded Gang – To keep up with the hip times, Black Coffee, Lira, Pavarotti and Migos.
Do you support any charities or NGOs?
Yes, I do especially with free time on my hands I always help whenever I can. I donate my time to Molepopole Motorsport Club where we donate clothing and free meals towards a good cause. We are currently working on a local chef’s board – a proper chefs association that will recognize and create a platform for all local chefs. I’m also looking towards working with more local charities.
What does it mean to be a Motswana?
Flying my country’s flag sky high whenever I shine outside BW. Also teaching and sharing my skills with fellow Batswana especially the young, upcoming and aspiring cooks and chefs.
What’s your message to Batswana, especially the youth?
It’s not easy out there! It shall never be easy to get what you want and where you want to be. Take that rejection and go work extra 10 times on it. Trust me with time you’ll get that elusive break. Always be original.
Which international celebrity chef would you like to work with and why?Marco Pierre White – a British chef, restaurateur, and television personality from Leeds. White has been dubbed the first celebrity chef, and the enfant terrible of the UK restaurant scene. He was called the godfather of modern cooking by Australian MasterChef. He’s a real legend. He’s the godfather of modern cooking. He cooked like an angel, looked like a rock star and changed the way the world thought about food.
Which African chef do you look up to and why?
Reuben Riffel – a South African celebrity chef, restaurateur, and media personality known for his food-focused television shows and advertisements, cookbooks and philanthropic work. He didn’t let Apartheid set him back or prevent him from chasing his dream. He’s worked as a builder, waiter, barman and a kitchen hand in his hometown of Franschhoek and ultimately climbing the ladder to become an executive chef. He’s an epitome of humility and perseverance yielding far greater results. And his dishes though simple are the Rolls Royce of Africa.
Do you have any last words?
I am Chef Habana and I appreciate your generous time and appreciation of me as your favourite chef. I’m only a call away to giving you a yummy dining experience in your very own comfort. Thank you very much, let’s slay the kitchen and eat!