Tastes from Nelson Mandela’s kitchen

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Nelson Mandela’s personal chef of 20 years launched her first cookbook Thursday, giving the world a taste of some of the anti-apartheid hero’s favourite South African dishes.

Xoliswa Ndoyiya’s “Ukutya Kwasekhaya: Tastes from Nelson Mandela’s Kitchen” (the title means “home cooking” in Xhosa) features recipes such as umsila wenkomo (oxtail stew), umngqusho (maize and beans) and ulusu (tripe) that the 49-year-old says Mandela relishes.

The book, which hit stores just before Christmas, is one of the few South African cookbooks to feature traditional African dishes.

Speaking at a book launch in Johannesburg, members of the Mandela family said Ndoyiya had become like a mother to them since the man who would be elected South Africa’s first black president hired her to cook for him shortly after his release from prison in 1990.

“Ma Xoli has been the family’s best-kept secret,” said Luvuyo Mandela, 25, the icon’s great-grandson.

“More than just someone that prepared meals, she was a parent to a lot of us.”

Beaming in a purple dress and scarf, the plump chef told the story of how Mandela, affectionately known as Tata (father), hired her after a mutual acquaintance told him about her exquisite cooking.

“Tata said to me, am I going to cook, because he heard that I’m a good cook. And I said, ‘Yes, I am, and I will cook for you Tata.’ I thought I was still going for another interview. But then it was just, ‘You’ve got the job.’ There and then.”

Ndoyiya has since cooked for world leaders, visiting dignitaries and celebrities like Michael Jackson and Oprah Winfrey, as well as Mandela’s entire extended family.

She has sent him dishes by air to London when he tired of English food and accompanied him to his hometown, the southeastern village of Qunu, when the 93-year-old returned there for six months recently.

Mandela, who is increasingly frail, did not attend the book launch. But staff from his charitable foundation presented Ndoyiya a plaque bearing a note from the man she has spent the past two decades cooking for.

“Thank you for feeding us so well all these years,” it said.

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