‘My love of food goes back as far as I can remember, but my love of cooking came much later,’ says self-taught cook Mpho Masango of Plump Kitchen. ‘When I was in university, I got a job at a fancy restaurant (well, fancy for Grahamstown!) and grew close to its chef. By observing him and exploring in the kitchen, I learned how to cook.’
Years later, after running The Bioscope’s Chalkboard Café in Joburg, quitting her nine-to-five in production, and pandering to people asking for her food skills professionally, Mpho wanted to channel her love of good food and feeding people, and started her enterprise Plump Kitchen. The pop-up culinary experience takes place in eclectic homes around Joburg and offers theme-tailored, story-rich and thoughtfully curated gatherings that feel like comfortable feasts for one big happy family.
Please tell us about the very beginning of Plump Kitchen and how it’s grown from day one? How would you describe the food that you make and what you’re most passionate about expressing with what you make?
My first job was at a restaurant while studying at Rhodes University, and I got to know the chef well – he was the most amazing and temperamental man. Watching him work, applying his techniques and making full use of all my senses is actually how I learned how to cook. My friends and housemate at university were my guinea pigs and I do believe they didn’t mind at all. Also, watching cooking shows, looking things up, observing and talking to others brought more knowledge and I refined my cooking skills. My love for words plays a huge role in my cooking, too. I’m always telling stories through all of it, from the simplest relish to a menu inspired by a film or song.
What have you worked on/created that you would describe as the most memorable to you, personally and professionally?
There’s a lot I’ve worked on that’s made an impression on me because I’ve worked in so many different environments doing a lot of different things. Creating and continuing to build Plump Kitchen is both my most memorable and current. As difficult as it’s been, it’s where my life met my work in the most intertwined way, so the lessons and reflections have been quite deep and rearranging.
What are you definitely not?
I’d love to work with…
Khanya Mzongwana, because there’s something incredibly special when you feel like there’s a match in language between you and someone else.
Go-to comfort food to eat?
Soup, stew and curry! They are the best dishes for throwing in all sorts of flavours or trying combos. I’m really big on salads as comfort too, actually. The satisfaction they can give without being too stuck on the heaviness usually associated with comfort food is overlooked. Freshly baked bread and butter, nothing like it. Winner of them all, however: a cheese burger!
Kitchen cupboard staples?
Grains and grain products. Legumes and pulses are a big one for me (so from couscous, bulgur wheat and orzo to pasta, black beans, lentils and chickpeas). If you have those and veggies, not much else is needed.
Which local and international cooks and chefs inspire you and why?
This is a tricky one for me because my food journey’s been quite particular. I’m not clued up on the who’s who and what’s what of the food world, but I do have loves and obsessions: Gather Journal, Local Milk, Cook In A Curry, Chickpea Mag, Zayaan Khan of Apocalypse Pantry, Yang Zhao of Beijing Opera, The Kitchenista, Babylonstoren. They all speak to my sensibilities in one way or another, either in how they cook, what they cook, their explorations of desire and pleasure, or what and how they talk about food and sustainability, but most importantly, their holistic approach to food.