When we’re dining with friends and family we often feel a warm and deep-seated sense of closeness and fulfilment. But food also has the incredible power to forge new connections that might not have existed were it not for a shared meal. Inspired by her love of cooking for the special people in her life, Nobhongo Gxolo began Third Culture Experiment to share this passion with a broader audience.Essentially, it’s a supper club, where guests are treated to a menu prepared using seasonal ingredients, where possible and served in an inviting setting. Since starting the initiative, Nobhongo’s hosted 23 successful events, with the next set to take place in February. We caught up with this creative cook to chat about Third Culture Experiment and her personal journey with food.
Third Culture Experiment is about connecting people through food. What’s was your earliest food-related memory?
Growing up kwa-6, eMdantsane, we had an avocado tree in the back yard. One of our favourite pastimes, between my siblings and I, was playing hide and seek. I was the youngest and the shortest, so my brother and sister had the added advantage of being able to climb the tree and disappearing from my sight. I think my attachment to avos is linked to this sepia-tinged memory.
Your all-time favourite meal?
Folk who know me may not agree, but I don’t consider myself a picky eater – it’s just that I have a fair idea of what I like and what I enjoy combining. When I eat out, knowing that consideration has been put into the meal, and the flavours blow your mind and you can’t help but do a happy food dance – that stays a win. I’ve also had the best times enjoying a meal someone else has prepared – whatever it may be. This is one of the gifts I stay grateful for. I love avo on buttered toast, peanut butter and jam, baked bread, tripe, trotters – I’m down for almost anything. Almost. I also enjoy taking time out to make something intricate with a complex flavour. I enjoy tasting new things.
And, on the other hand, what’s your least favourite meal or flavour?
Anything with green peas; we called them ertjies growing up. And I struggle with warm fruit – apple crumble and the like. I’ve been trying to expand my preferences and experiment some with the latter. Pulled off raspberry and milk chocolate brownies a while back, and there was something about the tangy-sweet combo that worked.
What prompted you to start Third Culture Experiment?
I’ve always enjoyed hosting friends. And working as a freelance writer I’d come across an article about food clubs. A slew of serendipitous moments ensued: a new friend inviting me over for a memorable dinner, an old friend attending a food-cum-art gig in Woodstock, and later learning that the new friend and the cook at the Woodstock event were one and the same person. I approached this new friend, Hlumela Matika, with the concept. She was keen to partner up. After an exhaustive planning session we decided to jump in and host our first event two weeks later – we didn’t want an over-investment in the detail resulting in inertia. From friends-only at the first one, word of mouth has resulted in a metamorphosis of the offering, turning it into a space to meet, eat and connect.
Tell us a bit more about the process, from start to finish, when you host an event…
Hlumela is no longer a part of the Experiment, as she’s studying abroad. This has lead to the process becoming collaborative in many instances where we partner up with various brands to create a unique offering for our guests – a partnership that will enhance the experience. Finalising the menu is a consuming process that takes into account considerations like what’s in season. Guests on our database receive personal invites, and interested parties can reach out to us if they’d like to come and play.
Food is always changing. What are your favourite culinary trends right now?
Trends are tricky; it depends on where you’re looking. We’ve been trying to be more cognisant of wastage, repurposing ingredients where possible, and making more products from scratch – like the lemon curd in the ice cream, the pesto for the pasta, the sun-dried tomato in the savoury bread, the red pepper hummus in the sandwich. This way we’re clear on all the elements that go into what we put on the plate.
Who are your biggest inspirations in the food industry?
My biggest food inspirations aren’t necessarily in the food industry. Chef’s Table will show me something remarkable – the art in food. A restaurant chef will stop a train of thought the second a forkful of their creation enters my mouth. A friend will invite me over and pull off dinner with an unexpected flavour combination. A conversation with my mom will take me back to smells of our kitchen, of family, of home.
Most underrated ingredient?
Not too long ago I used to walk past turnips at the market or in the fruit and veg store. I wasn’t quite sure what they were or what one was meant to do with them. I think it was a conversation I started with a lady who put a bunch in her shopping basket – this happens often with unfamiliar ingredients. She enthusiastically talked me through her various turnip-starring meals. I walked away with my own bunch. I enjoy it mostly as a thickening agent. The goodness one often can’t quite put their finger on. It’s incredibly flavourful.
Most overrated ingredient?
Perhaps not ‘most’, but still a yes on the overrated side, is cream. I love cream: it’s such a yummy default filler. But there are other things one can turn to. Many vegetables can add a creamy consistency once blended, for instance. Cauliflower is a good example. Other times it’s worthwhile to try a completely different flavour profile – it could lead to a delicious surprise.
As a creative in the food industry, what advice would you share with people wanting to pursue their dream projects?
Do it. Act. Move. Start something. Start somewhere. There might be things standing in the way of you living your love, but oftentimes the most immovable thing is you. We’re incredibly good at standing in our own way. At talking ourselves out of doing the things that are important to us. It’s a strange thing.
The next Third Culture Experiment will take place in February in collaboration with Hartenberg Wine Estate. For an invite, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Third Culture Experiment on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.