Buhle Mbonambi spoke to Sandile Mlambo ahead of his Alfalfa Birthday Fashion Extravaganza, taking place in his hometown of Mtubatuba on Sunday, where he will showcase his new range and celebrate a decade in the fashion industry.
Who taught you how to cook? Just like fashion and furniture design, almost everything I know I learnt from watching other people. All of my friends are great cooks, so I have been quietly taking tips from all of them over the years. This is especially true of the late Emile Dlamini, who was the greatest cook and an all-round creative like me. I’d say I learnt a great deal from him.
How old were you when you realised that you had an interest in food?
I think I started having a keener interest in food in my early 20s, the age when we started having our own places and started hosting friends. That’s where the desire to impress guests with fine culinary skills began.
What was the first meal you made and how was it?
Because my mother used to travel a lot with work, we were basically raised by nannies, but she used to source these nannies during her work travels in the deepest rural villages of northern KZN, and those women couldn’t cook to save their lives. So I had to learn how to cook from a very young age, probably 11. My first meal was probably potato curry, or pilchards.
My siblings tasted it and I doubt they knew any better, since they were subjected to bad cooking to begin with. I was proud of myself, though.
You’re a creative person – what’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done in the kitchen?
What have I not done in the kitchen? From gourmet tripe, to tripe stuffed dumplings, to throwing spinach in fish curry But maybe my ultimate was tossing half a bottle of vodka in my friend’s “hangover soup”. It was a gamble, just like 99% of my cooking, but it worked wonders, everybody demanded the recipe afterwards.
Do you care about food trends at all?
Not entirely, because my cooking is usually influenced by what I have in the kitchen, or what I bump into while shopping. I am hardly influenced by what’s going on in the food world, but I do take notice from time to time.
Is there a food trend you want to see less of this year?
(Laughs) Red velvet anything. Enough is enough.
Who has had the biggest impact on you when it comes to food? And why?
Emile, because he was a mad genius creative and made everything look easy, and had mind-blowing bombastic names for everything he created. We would cook while discussing fashion trends and world travels. It was such a special treat.
Do you have a favourite chef or foodie?
Lungile Nhlanhla of MasterChef South Africa, and of course, Jamie Oliver. Jamie, just like me, doesn’t measure or follows certain rules, he also invents as he goes.
You have a fashion show coming up – why have a standalone show instead of waiting for fashion week?
Fashion week and other big shows serve a certain purpose that I feel I am over right now. A standalone show is all about me, my collection and my guests.
The theme for this collection is Alfalfa Classics – it’s influenced by my personal favourites from the past collections, especially the monochromatic collection I did for Fashion By The Sea in 2012. That’s the collection that put me on the fashion map, way before Durban Fashion Fair did.
Any plans for menswear, or do you think fashion is driven by gender neutrality right now?
Most definitely. I have a number of menswear designs, dating as far back as 2013, that are chilling in my computer. I feel this is the year to unleash them. Androgyny and gender-bending is a huge deal in fashion right now – it has been for a while – but more and more designers and style gurus are opening up to it.
What project are you working on that we can look forward to this year?
DIY furniture and interior decor, that’s what I am focusing on a lot, as I am slowly sliding away from the mainstream fashion industry. I am also focusing on my new business of designing and producing stock for clients who want to start their own boutiques but lack the “know how”.
Wine or champagne? And why?
This is a tricky one, because they both serve a different purpose. I generally drink wine, for the thirst and enjoyment, while champagne is for instant happiness. (Laughs)
Do you have a go-to recipe whenever you want to eat something delicious and quick to make?
I don’t have a recipe for anything I cook. It’s a toss-as-you-go situation. But I am a sucker for good pasta. I cook pasta more than anything – my favourite is beef, spinach and pepper pasta.