This Youth Month, we look at how pastry chef Motheba Makhetha turned her love of food into a full-time career

Pastry chef Motheba Makhetha. Picture: Shavan Rahim

Pastry chef Motheba Makhetha. Picture: Shavan Rahim

Published Jun 5, 2024


South Africa is home to some of the best pastry chefs in the world, many have worked for the top chefs and restaurants around the world as well as around the country.

Also making her mark as one of the best pastry chefs SA has to offer is chef Motheba Makhetha.

Born and bred in Johannesburg, Makhetha said her love for baking comes from her grandmother.

“She was an amazing cook and every time we went to visit her we all knew we were about to be fed and treated to all sorts of goodies. She cooked with love and I have always said the secret ingredient to anything is love.

“Growing up my family also ran multiple businesses in and around Soweto and I think that’s where my passion for not only cooking but making people happy through a simple service started.

“My dad always instilled a go-get-what-you-want sort of mindset in all of us and I think now I’m super grateful for all the lessons taught.

“My earliest memory is my mom teaching me how to make eggs and from then on I thought I was the best cook ever. The eggs were burnt half of the time but my mom always said they were delicious,” she said.

Currently the pastry sous chef at the Cape Grace Hotel in Cape Town, Makhetha studied at the HTA School of Culinary Art in Johannesburg and reveals that her years at the school were amazing.

“I met so many people interested in the same things I was. My lecturers were always so supportive of us and ready to help with anything. The exposure I got from culinary school alone was amazing.

“I love the structure it has given me and the ability to be creative in so many different ways. I’ve learned to think on my feet, be prideful of my work, and be respectful of the different types of produce we receive on a daily basis,” she said.

In 2020, the 27-year-old opened her own business called Rafifi’s Cakery which specialises in bespoke cakes.

“I have always loved making speciality cakes and during the pandemic people were ready to celebrate anything because we had been locked inside for so long.

“I really enjoyed seeing people’s reactions when I delivered a birthday or wedding cake. It really is so amazing when people appreciate your hard work,” said Makhetha.

Being the best in what she does, she was the winner of the 2023 Eat Out Cacao Barry Dessert Award and recently travelled to the Cacao Barry Or Noir studio in France to create her own unique chocolate; Kwena.

Makhetha travelled up to the lab along with Chocolate Academy South Africa head chef Arno Ralph. There, they worked with the Or Noir team to create a one-of-a-kind chocolate to best fit her needs.

As the first chef on the continent to create her own unique chocolate through Or Noir with Cacao Barry, Makhetha said she is forever grateful to the amazing people at Cacao Barry and the Chocolate Academy for the amazing experience.

“Travelling to France was so amazing, not only the food but the produce they have at their disposal. I think one of the things I took away from my trip is that less is more sometimes, the food is really simple but treated so well and the flavour isn’t masked by anything,” she shared.

According to the “Chocolate Academy”, Kwena is a 66% dark chocolate made from beans of African origin and pays homage to Makhetha’s family and their sacrifices.

“The name translates to crocodile, the Makhetha family totem.

“This name aptly describes such a robust chocolate with its rich dark cocoa notes, fruit, and acidity.

“It also speaks to her relationship with food and how she came to love pastry: growing up sharing food with loved ones was significant to Motheba’s decision to become a chef, and her family was very supportive of this choice,” they revealed.

For anyone looking to be a pastry chef, Makhetha said her advice is always to be proud of what you do and don’t do something for the sake of getting it done.

“Enjoy every moment! You can learn something new nearly every day so always keep an open mind to everything,” she said.