Delving into the kitchen with Chef Delu
He’s the latest social media sensation.
32-year-old Thapelo Delu has captured the imagination of many with his impressive culinary skills.
Going by the name Chef Delu on Facebook, the Somerset East native is a living example of a true street hustler.
From first working as a gardener after completing his secondary education at Francistown Senior School (FSS), Delu worked his way to the top, falling and rising again to carve a pathway in an industry that has taken him from dusty Somerset to the wet and wild Okavango Delta, and back to the concrete streets of Francistown.
Delu is the flavour of the moment and is already fully booked for the months of October and November.
In this interview, the sought after chef chews the fat with Voice reporter, Kabelo Dipholo.
Thank you for honouring our call and agreeing to this impromptu interview.
The pleasure is all mine.
You sent social media into overdrive this past weekend with an imaginative menu and set up. Briefly tell us about Chef Delu.
I’m a Somerset native, born and raised in Francistown.
I did my schooling at Mahube Primary, Donga Junior Secondary School and finally Francistown Senior School, and that’s where I ended my formal education.
My first job after completing at FSS was as a gardener at Adansonia Hotel in 2009.
Even though I worked as a groundsman, I was always fascinated by the kitchen, and used every chance I had to interact with the kitchen staff.
My prayers were answered in 2010 when I was hired by Hungry Lion as a cook.
I spent three years with the fast food restaurant before joining KFC as a cook and cashier.
An unlikely introduction into the culinary arts!
I was later hired by Nandos as a griller, and that is where my eyes were really opened.
Nandos are a very strict restaurant, and I learnt a lot of things about customer service and generally dealing with food.
It’s a pity I only stayed there for nine months, before joining Cresta Marang.
I only lasted six months with the hotel as an opportunity came up for me to work for Wilderness Safaris in the Delta.
While I acquired new skills in the kitchen I decided to return to Francistown in 2016.
Working in the Delta seems like a great gig for a chef, why did you leave?
I got tired of the bush, and missed my family.
It was on my return that I decided to start my own catering business.
I set up a stall at the bus rank, but I found the going very tough.
I was making huge losses as the market was saturated.
I quit and started making alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails which proved to be a hit.
I started to have bookings and immediately went on a massive marketing campaign on Facebook.
I remember my first gig was in Nshakazhogwe where I was invited to make cocktails at a birthday party.
You still haven’t told us about how you became the most sought after chef.
I’m getting to that.
An opportunity presented itself; as my cocktail business grew I also marketed my catering business.
My first ever booking was in 2017 for a wedding.
I didn’t know anything about pricing for a wedding and made a huge loss.
I wasn’t too bitter about it, I was just happy that I received my first booking as a chef.
Things, however, went south from that point on, and I looked for a job and was hired at Ebat in Tatisiding.
I also worked for Delicious Delights until 2018 and had to quit when Covid-19 hit.
It was one of the toughest years of my life.
I had no money, and was making a little through making designer cocktails for clients, but it was not enough.
My biggest break came in January this year, when a wedding I was catering at was beamed on Botswana Television.
From that interview at Aerodrome, I received a lot of bookings, and just like that my company Peokatlego was back in business.
Well your rise to fame has certainly been swift! Would you say you’re the most sought after chef in Francistown at the moment?
I believe so.
I haven’t had a free weekend in a while, and I’m already fully booked for October, November and about to be fully booked for December.
I have been very busy and currently employ 15 people.
We’re able to service two events in one weekend.
In fact, just this weekend we catered for 900 people in Tatisiding, Borolong and Tsamaya.
The only challenge I have is that clients wants to see me in person, so this means if possible I’ve to be physically present at all these events.
What other challenges do you face?
The first challenge is transportation.
We’ve just started making money and don’t have a car.
We rent and that has proved problematic.
The target is to get a company car in February next year, a seven-seater would do for now.
This has, however, not deterred us.
We’re still able to reach any destination and have never disappointed our clients.
So do you have a signature dish?
Yes I do, I call it ‘Blue Ocean’.
It’s a package that includes a cocktail, a burger, two wings, grilled pork and sweetcorn.
Sounds yummy! Do you follow any celebrity chef?
No really I don’t follow anyone.
I do my research online, learn recipes and put my own signature on the dishes.
Cooking has always been a passion for me, probably because I love eating (laughs).
I enjoy tasting new dishes and trying new combinations.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I plan to have a restaurant, where I can prepare meals and also serve cocktails.
I’m very good at cocktails and still have a loyal clientele.
Batswana generally don’t RSVP. How do you deal with clients who give you the wrong figures?
It’s a difficult situation to deal with.
You find that you’re booked for 200 people only to arrive at a packed wedding with close to 400.
We know this especially at traditional weddings.
When you’re not cooking up a storm, how do you relax?
I sleep. Every chance I get, I just sleep.
I’m always tired due to lack of sleep, so whenever I’m free I just sleep.
I also make time for jogging and also go to church.
What advice do you have for young people who currently have catering businesses on the street?
Don’t chase money.
Chase your passion, do your best and the money will follow.
And finally, Thank God It’s Friday. What do you have planned for this weekend?
I’m catering for 400 people at River Deck in Molapo.
It’s another busy weekend for me!