Musa Mhlasi – one of Botswana’s finest chefs who founded ‘The Box’ mobile kitchen operating nearer The Three Chiefs monument in the Central Business District (CBD), Gaborone is the epitome of ‘thinking out of the box’. From a marketing head to becoming a fully-fledged chef, Mhlasi is a classic example of ‘making your passion, your pay cheque’.
His eatery dubbed ‘The Box’ has become the new conspicuous location where all the elite CBD populaces find themselves licking their fingers and eating from his dexterous palms courtesy of his fastidious cuisine. As a sheer and self-taught chef, Mhlasi uses different plating modus operandi and likes playing with his food thus making it look gaudier.
The 30-year-old Mhlasi is so passionate about his culinary craft that we find it fitting to brand him one of Botswana’s budding chef entrepreneurs. Just like any other startup, which struggles to find its footing during its initial stages, Mhlasi has had his fair share but remains grateful that his days of struggle are growing fainter by the day as more and more customers are thronging ‘The Box’ for his sumptuous street gourmet.
Recently, the #BotswanaUnplugged team sauntered into Mhlasi’s establishment where the wafting aromas of the freshly prepared meals straight from ‘The Box’ cut through our nostrils forcing us to smack our lips in merriment, before settling down to find out more about the Sebina native and what really makes him tick…
How would you describe yourself and where do you hail from?
I’m a simple, laid back, chatty person even though I’m socially awkward at times and I come from Sebina.
What’s sets you apart?
My desire to succeed and relentless nature to pursue whatever I want.
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Never lose yourself in the midst of hype, humility.
What do you listen to or do when you are looking for inspiration?
I love R&B, Oldies and Soulful House. Being a poet as well, I love music that speaks to me.
What’s the one thing you wish people knew about you?
I wish people knew my desire to propel other youth and show people the possibility of turning your passion into a career.
What can’t you live without? Please tell us a little bit about your family?
I can’t live without food. Ha-ha! I’m the oldest of 3 boys from a single mother and we were raised both in Gaborone and Francistown.
And now to the real questions: who and what inspired you to go into catering and becoming a chef?
I have always loved food from a very tender age, my inspiration into the business is solely based on my love for food and creating amazing dishes.
How did your big break come about?
My big break was about 2 years ago when Mascom showed confidence and hired us to provide dinner for the Executive team’s Christmas dinner party.
Who is your role model and why?
It has to be Jamie Oliver, he’s also a self taught chef and he’s managed to take his brand internationally from restaurants to cooking products and that’s exactly what I want to do.
Do you eat nutritiously? How often do you exercise or go to the gym?
I’m the biggest procrastinator of life, I’ve been meaning to get fit and make it a lifestyle this whole year. You know I’m always around Food and try to eat right but it’s not easy chief, me I love food mate.
Do you have any limitations? Would you pose naked for the cover of a magazine for instance?
I probably would pose naked for a magazine. Ha- ha. It would probably depend on my mood though, I’d like to think I’m a care free person, most times.
What has been your biggest or favourite highlight of your life/career so far?
The biggest highlight would have to be seeing my mother’s smile every time she tells me how proud she is of me and what I have become.
What other exciting gigs have you been involved with in the past?
I’ve done Mascom, BOCRA, Dwine on the River, Jam for Brunch, just off the top of my head. We are also doing Rasesa Social soon and I’m excited about that.
Which countries have you travelled to so far, courtesy of your work? Which ones were your favourite?
I’ve been to Kariba, Bulawayo and Harare in Zimbabwe, Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa and I lived in Windhoek, Namibia for a year. Kariba would have to be my favourite, I love how most of the town is build on a hill/mountain, the lake and dam are also absolutely amazing. However, Cape Town has the best sunsets.
What excites you the most about being a celebrity, well you are?
I’ve never thought of myself about being a celebrity, of course I notice the popularity but I don’t think I’m a celebrity.
Life would be simpler if…
If there were more zeros on my account balance. Ha-ha!
What’s your typical weekday?
Typical day starts at 6am preparing for lunch service. I juggle that and social media marketing and a bit of admin until 12pm. Lunch service starts until 2pm. I then take meetings after and inventory of everything that’s needed.
And your typical weekend…
If I’m not working I’m indoors or just relaxing with my friends.
What are your favourite out-of-town escapades; tell us where do you usually go and why?
My business doesn’t allow me to have out of town escapades. However, I’d love to go bungee jumping and zip lining one of these days.
Where do you enjoy shopping?
I absolutely loathe shopping. I only do it on a need to basis.
What superhuman power would you most like to have?
I’d love to have The Flash’s super power, speed.
Something that no one knows about me is…
I’m such a geek it’s not funny. Ha-ha!
My motto is…
Try everything at least once.
My simplest pleasure is…
Canned fish mixed with baked beans served with pasta, tomato and mayonnaise.
My guiltiest pleasure is…
The craziest fashion trend I have even followed is…
Remember I’m the guy that loathes shopping. But I think it would have to be getting dreadlocks right after high-school.
What celebrity crushes did you have as a teenager?
Alicia Keys, can I add Bucie as well, my current crush.
My biggest regret is…
Actually I have no regrets, everything that’s happened and I’ve done was to lead to here or where I’ll end up.
Before I die, I’d like to…
Have an international brand of restaurants.
What surprises you most about adult life?
The way it’s so difficult my G, you never realize how grown-ups struggle as a child growing up.
My proudest moment was…
I have a few, latest was when The BOX finally opened and we sold out.
What made you decide to study whatever you studied?
I have an associate degree in marketing. I chose it because I knew in whatever I did in the future it would come in handy.
What’s been your worst-ever career disaster…
We had 2 jobs early on when we started, 2nd client which was at night and out of town and we delivered late, the food was cold and client was unhappy. We never got our payment from him. Lesson learned and I’m happy it happened early on!
What’s been the biggest life lesson in your career?
Never bite more than you can chew or take on more than you can handle.
Currently I love Grand Palm’s steak. I have favourite meals at different restaurants.
Give me wine, cognac or champagne/sparkling wine any day. Wait are talking about soft drinks? Pick n Pay’s Pomegranate Juice then.
Currently wearing my own blend from colognes I got from Afnan.
Favourite pair of jeans…
I’m a shorts and sweat pants kinda guy.
What are you listening to right now?
Currently listening to Jay-Z’s new album, 444.
Do you have a favourite Botswana chef; African artist and international chef?
I don’t have a favourite Botswana Chef, or should I say I don’t know a lot about local chefs since we don’t have platforms that expose the culinary arts here. Hugh Masikela would have to be my African artist. International chef is Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Botswana and Africa right now?
With Botswana I think it’s our fear of change, it hinders us from growing as a people.
Do you support any charities or NGOs?
I’ve done work with Game Changers.
Which international superstar would you like to work with and why?
Akon, I love how he’s always working to bring Africa up to par with the rest of the world.
What does it mean to be a Motswana?
I am incredibly proud of being a Motswana and my Kalanga heritage. I’ve always had people tell me to relocate in order to realize my full potential but my patriotism has always kept me home.
Do you have any last words?
Always be aware of the value and worth of your brand. We also serve amazing food over The BOX. I want your readers and followers to come for lunch one day. You know what they say, ‘The taste of the pudding is in the eating.’