My Dream Is To Change The Way Ugandans Eat-Gilbert Ncube
Pastry chef Gilbert Ncube is as renowned for his sunny outlook as he is for his decadent sweet cakes. At 28 years old, he has baked for some of the most discerning clients (Walnut group, Bread Basket, Sandton Mall SA). The culinary star never planned to end up in the kitchen but a family misfortune led to his dropping out of college and joining the hustle for survival. The jolly and pragmatic Gilbert spared time to talk to Shespell.com about the difficult task of cooking for Ugandans, his multi-cultural influences and why he’ll take intuition in the kitchen over formal training any day.
Shespell: How did you get into the kitchen?
GN: How can I answer that question precisely? Let’s see I come from a family of fabulous cooks, my mother, my sisters are all phenomenal in the kitchen. But I learnt how to bake from my sister who also found me my first job at Walnut in 2008.
Shespell: Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do?
GN: You know the impressive answer would be yes, but the truth is that baking for a living was the last thing on my mind. Like all my peers, my eyes were set on the corporate career and I was doing my degree in Human Resource Management ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, my family was unable to pay my tuition due to unforeseeable circumstances and I dropped out.
Shespell: Go on. . .
GN: By this time things were dire, I had to fend for myself or starve. So I had to start earning as soon as possible. The only other thing I knew how to do was baking but without a certificate it was difficult getting hired. I was lucky Walnut took me on but did not pay me for that whole month when I was trying to prove to them that I was as good as any chef with fancy certifications. And I have never looked back.
Shespell: Before you came to Uganda, I hear you were a “great deal” at Sandton mall. What motivated you to leave?
GN: I didn’t know I was a great deal but thanks. Moving to Kampala wasn’t an easy decision because like most of my peers I thought this place was the back of the beyond. Back in SA, people tend to be limited in their perception of other African countries. I didn’t know what to expect but I wanted to try it out and I am glad I did.
Shespell: So have your perceptions about Uganda changed since?
GN: Oh yes! I am embarrassed when I remember the fears I had about relocating. Uganda is a fabulous country and I have never met more enterprising people. Again, unlike my peers back in SA who have been consumed by the corporate image or the blinding lights of the entertainment world, young people here are not afraid of getting their hands dirty with meaningful work. Out of every five people I watch soccer with, three of them are managing their own startups. This is a nation that will definitely explode with development once all these startups stabilize and begin to make profits. In about ten years, the place to make serious money from will be here in Kampala.
Shespell: Enough about startups. So you have cooked for different cultures. Do you find Ugandans easy to cook for?
GN: I find Ugandans quite a challenge to cook for. Their tastes tend to be conservative and rigid. Yes they do love my fast food but when it comes to dessert very few are willing to try. This is what I want to change. In fact my biggest dream right now is to teach Ugandans to eat fruits and other desserts. If I can do that, my job here will be done.
Shespell: Why should one eat dessert?
GN: That’s exactly what everyone asks me. They say Gilbert see, my stomach is already full where do you want to put your cakes? And I have to tell them not to eat too much of the main course.
Shespell: But you know we don’t have courses here. Right? In fact an average Ugandan eats one big meal a day and that is in the evening so we don’t have the luxury of courses.
GN: See that’s where you are wrong. There is plenty of food lying around it is just that people overlook it. I have never lived in a place with such an abundance of fresh organic fruits and vegetables. I live in Mutungo and every homestead has fruits and vegetables growing in their compound or backyard. And what do they do? They harvest them, sell them to buy the roadside chips instead of eating it themselves. So here the farmer doesn’t eat like a farmer. Why?
Shespell: Maybe if you told us why it is important to eat desserts we could start there?
GN: Eating desserts has actually been noted as being beneficial to weight loss. One of the most frustrating things about dieting is having cravings for sweet foods. Having a small sweet snack as a dessert every night can satisfy your cravings while dieting to prevent you from binging. A rich dessert can provide your body with the missing nutrients and give you more energy. Depending on the dessert, you can have plenty of nutrients in a sweet snack. Strawberries and bananas are very popular as a nutritious dessert. The strawberries provide your body with vitamin C, antioxidants and they fight off wrinkles, poor eyesight and even cancer. The bananas provide your body with vitamin B6 and plenty of potassium.
Shespell: What’s your favourite cake?
GN: I bake several cakes but have five favorites which you can find at Drew &Jac’s Forest Mall Kampala. I can’t decide between them, I love them all because each has a unique taste and an addictive quality
Red velvet cake
I love the softness and moistness of the red velvet. Plus I can keep it for up to four days in the fridge and still get that fresh taste.
Cocoa nut cake
I tend to like things in excess so my chocolate cake is infused with rich dark chocolate inside.
This is for those who want a delicious cake that is still extremely healthy. It contains raisins and grated carrots.
Rainbow velvet cake
This a hit and favourite for kids
Special vanilla mix
Shespell: What do you do when you are not baking?
GN: I watch sports and drink beer with friends or catch up with my reading. I make sure that I put in four hours of reading every night. I read mostly business books because I want to do business on a large scale. My grand plan is to run healthy fast food restaurants all over Africa and I am preparing for it.
Shespell: Good luck. I wish you all the best. I will definitely be a loyal customer.
GN: Thank you. I will be happy to serve you.