Popularly known as The Lazy Makoti, Chef Mogau Seshoene has completely overhauled how we think of traditional South African food and she uniquely celebrates its history and culture through her expression of The Lazy Makoti and her cooking style. Words by: Dee Walker
Even the name The Lazy Makoti is an ode to her tradition and culture. When you think of Mogau, you certainly think of one of South Africa’s sweethearts and someone who has put traditional food on the map with such flair and passion. Having met her, she truly is reflective of her brand with a warm and welcoming smile like we see her online.
With the emergence and continued growth of social media channels, Mogau has been able to connect with people not only in South Africa, but throughout the African continent and worldwide through her Instagram, YouTube collaborations and appearances on television. She now has over 500,000 people following her journey on Instagram alone which is a huge accomplishment. South Africa has got a rich food culture that its people are extremely proud of. The Lazy Makoti preserves this culture and brings about a renewed sense of excitement for traditional food.
Mogau was born and raised in Limpopo, South Africa, a province which is approximately 4 and a half hours away from Johannesburg, where she is now based, and she grew up with her mother, father and young sister. Her mum is a teacher and her father a priest, and she heavily credits her childhood and her mum’s love of cooking and baking for the interest that was naturally sparked in her from a young age – she was actively involved in food preparation from 12 years old.
An aspect that makes The Lazy Makoti unique among her fans and followers is the fact that she doesn’t overcomplicate her dishes to a level of intimidation for wannabe home cooks or chefs, and she uses simple ingredients that most people already have at home. Her dishes are fun to make, colourful and also healthy, something which is important to Mogau as she recreates famous traditional dishes like you would expect Gogo (grandmother) to make for the family.
However, becoming The Lazy Makoti did not happen overnight. Mogau was actually working a high-flying job as an auditor but it wasn’t fulfilling her and so she quit in 2014. Then came the emergence of Mogau the Chef. She was helping her friend who was soon to be married learn how to prepare traditional food so that she wouldn’t be called The Lazy Makoti (lazy daughter-in-law) by her in-laws. Things evolved from there into a business for Mogau which has continued to grow and evolve.
I sat down with Mogau to hear a bit more of her story and the inspirations behind her brand:
Dee: What influenced you to get into cooking and did how you grew up have an impact on you becoming a foodie and chef?
Mogau: Yes, cooking has always been a part of my life. I’ve been cooking since I was about 12, helping my mom in the kitchen. She is an avid baker and at any given moment there was freshly baked cake, scones or biscuits in the house. I think that is what primarily influenced my love for cooking.
D: You worked in the corporate world before dedicating yourself to food in 2014, what motivated you to make that move?
M: I was unfortunately one of those people who were quite unhappy in the corporate world. There were very few things I enjoyed about the pace and temperament of auditing. Around the office I was known to be that person who was always bringing food items for people to taste. Then a friend asked if I could teach them how to cook, and that was a light bulb-turning moment for me. Teaching people how to cook very quickly became something I did on weekends. I’d drive to their homes and teach them to love their kitchens. I quickly recognised how much happier I was in those moments. It was almost like I’d been wearing the wrong shoes that were far too tight and teaching fitting perfectly. But I also needed it to make monetary sense. That was the hard part, parting with an income and a lifestyle ‘standard’ that comes with building from scratch.
D: You mentioned that your mum is a brilliant baker, is she also a good cook? Did she teach you what you know today?
M: Absolutely and she is an even better baker. A lot of my foundation was from her kitchen. Every Sunday we still make a huge lunch and one of the best times is actually around making and preparing the food. I still consult her on many recipes even though I’m a trained chef, haha!
D: Tell me more about The Lazy Makoti and what it means?
M: The Lazy Makoti means the lazy daughter-in-law or wife. In South Africa, Makoti is synonymous with being a domesticated goddess who is a great cook and takes pleasure in housework, tolling from dusk to dawn with a smile. However, we all know this reality is very different.
The name came about when I was teaching a friend to cook, and she’d tell me she wanted to learn so she could impress her in-laws so that they didn’t dub her the lazy makoti (newly-wed). I thought it was funny and witty, such an oxymoron; lazy and makoti. Two words that don’t belong together, or do they? It’s always such a thrill to see women both young and old embracing this name. To be a makoti can mean both things and that’s okay. They laugh themselves silly and always say, ‘Oh my word, I am a lazy makoti’.
D: Did you always anticipate having The Lazy Makoti as a brand or did that happen accidentally? Do you enjoy creating content for social media?
M: I think on some level you always know and hope and work towards it. But I could never have anticipated this level of growth. I’m so grateful. The initial reception I think was telling – people immediately responded to the name and told me there’s something unique about it. It’s a name that they immediately loved and related to it.
I definitely enjoy creating content for the most part, and once I realised that with one-on-one classes, I’d be limited to teaching one person at a time only, I knew I had to tap into social media to reach wider audiences.
D: I love how you promote South African food on your platforms, would you say that you have a desire to promote the role of food in maintaining South African culture?
M: Absolutely! Especially in South Africa where a lot of what we see on TV, in media and grocery stores ultimately impacts what is put in shopping baskets and therefore our dinner plates have become so eurocentric. People tend not to realise the huge implications of that. If we don’t embrace and celebrate our food, culture and indigenous crops the ripple effect can be devastating.
In South Africa, our chefs are judged on French or European standards of cooking, and you are only seen as a good chef if you can cook French food well. In addition, our farmers have abandoned growing indigenous crops that their families farmed for generations in favour of what is in demand as dictated by ‘trends’, and these are trends that we follow but are created by someone outside of South Africa. As a result, our farmers have to compete with international farmers. And that is a game that is hard to play for many reasons for an African farmer. There are just so many reasons.
Also, in terms of national pride; what are we doing celebrating someone else’s food culture but not our own? It is embarrassing to me to have international guests served French or Italian food in Africa instead of our own food that is just as good. This inferiority complex that says someone else’s something is better than ours is absurd and has to change. African food also has to be given space to breathe and grow and elevate, and unleash its full creativity and flavour and boldness.
D: How important is it to you to share healthy recipes, especially when it comes to promoting South African food?
M: It is so important. There is a misconception about African food not being healthy which is simply not true. One of our indigenous grains sorghum is one of the healthiest grains there is yet most people don’t know. There are just so many gaps in our knowledge of our own food. Our people did not slaughter animals every day and therefore didn’t consume meat every day. I could go on and on about just how naturally healthy our diets have always been. So, a big part of the work remains in education about our food and history, especially for Black people everywhere.
D: I love how bright and colourful all your recipes are. As a foodie, what is your favourite thing to cook and eat?
M: Honestly, I love finding new ways to cook and experiment with indigenous foods. I once made a sorghum salad, treating the sorghum like couscous and adding colourful vegetables like cherry tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, cucumber and herbs. It was delicious!
D: Tell me a bit about your two best-selling books ‘The Lazy Makoti’s guide to the kitchen’ and ‘Hosting with The Lazy Makoti’? Are they different from one another and do you have plans for any more releases soon?
M: I will always write cookbooks. There is something about a book’s ability to transcend time and pass down information. The first book was my introduction to the kitchen. Real basics for everyone who found the kitchen daunting. Because of the way our people cook, things aren’t always measured even when the recipe is shared. Someone said, “Africans season until the ancestors’ whisper, ‘enough my child’” and it is so true. My mom hardly measures but it comes out just right. That unfortunately doesn’t help in the quest to preserve these recipes and hand them down to the [next generation] and so the need for this book. I have all of your favourite recipes from your mum and gogo’s (grandmother’s) kitchen that they never wrote down.
The second book was written largely during the Covid-19 lockdown in anticipation of a time like this when we would finally be able to host partners, a few friends or a dinner party. My recipes are for all occasions.
D: Your cookbooks are so popular; they have gone on to be reprinted and you are a No 1 best seller! How did it feel to hear this news?
M: It gave me incredible validation. I remember with my first book. I was told that Black food won’t sell and especially because the number of African people buying cookbooks were so low. I now understand that it was largely because they were not written with them in mind and their unique palates, and so why would they buy something that did not resonate with them?
Many, many, many people let me know that mine was their first-ever cookbook. They always had the money and desire to purchase cookbooks, but none of the cookbooks on the market related to them personally. I’m proud to celebrate my people this way. Representation is not overrated, and I know that all too well. Years later and both books are still charting in the top 5 nationwide.
D: How was it to be featured in Forbes Africa 30 under 30s list (among other incredible lists!)?
M: It was another wonderful validation and divine prophecy. I am grateful for the support I receive so consistently.
D: I know previously you’ve hosted a TV show, is this still something you’re doing and if so, where can we watch you live in action?
M: A show is in the works but otherwise my social media is always active. I’m currently also touring South Africa and some of Southern Africa, this month I’m in Zambia for book signing and cooking demos.
D: What is next for The Lazy Makoti – where would you like to be in 5 years?
M: I just launched The Lazy Makoti homeware with our country’s biggest retailer Woolworths. The focus is growing and expanding in that space and of course more books and plans to have a more meaningful presence in the rest of the continent.
The Lazy Makoti has taken South Africa and the world by storm with her modern interpretation of traditional African food and the way she continuously motivates and encourages other Black chefs to do the same. Even in Zambia, where I live, there is a huge emergence of home cooks showcasing traditional food on their social channels and putting new spins on it. The Lazy Makoti has inspired them and it will be exciting to see what the universe holds for her next, a restaurant or chef school perhaps? Whatever the case we will be watching with eager eyes!