Tito Mboweni's pilchards, fixed

  • We asked well-known chef Lesego Semenya to re-imagine finance minister Tito Mboweni's quick-and-dirty pilchard stew into something more edible.
  • Using largely the same ingredients, but with different cooking techniques, Semenya came up with much better-looking dish.
  • Key is to use less garlic, and to skin your tomatoes, Semenya says.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.  


Chef Lesego Semenya has come to dread weekends, because of finance minister Tito Mboweni’s culinary adventures.

As soon as Mboweni starts tweeting his dishes – usually late on a Friday or Saturday evening - Semenya’s own social media accounts are flooded with followers wanting his opinion on the minister’s latest creations.

For Semenya, this is painful, largely because he simply cannot stand Mboweni’s favourite ingredient: canned pilchards.

“Throughout my career I’ve been lucky enough to have sampled some of the world’s most exclusive culinary delicacies. The chef school that I studied at made sure that all the students who studied within its walls tasted and learned to make cuisine from all over the world, no matter the price or cost. Having said that, every chef is a sentimental being. We thrive off nostalgia and stories.

“Every dish and recipe is linked to a moment, a person or is an ode in remembrance to the past… but that doesn’t mean we are emotionally connected to every dish. One of those ingredients I hold no love or nostalgia for is canned pilchards.

“My dislike of canned pilchards has travelled with me since my childhood.

“A regular ingredient next to cabbage and pap, I came to detest the smell, texture and look of canned pilchards due to having way too much of it as a kid.

“My dad would stew it, make fish cakes with it, make sandwiches for road trips with it, add it to salads, mash it up and add mayo and put into our lunchboxes (as if fish paste wasn’t horrible enough) and include it in soups.”

Chef Lesego Semenya

It was therefore with some trepidation that Semenya took on Business Insider South Africa’s challenge of turning Mboweni’s trademark pilchard stew into something that would, at the very least, look more appetising.

Using the same ingredients – chopped tomatoes and peppers, a mountain of garlic, salt and pepper and a can of pilchards – Semenya set about making stew the way it should be made.

Here’s his advice to Mboweni.

Cut down on the garlic

“His final dish looked more like a tomato and garlic stew with a side of pilchards,” says Semenya.


“Remember your main ingredient should be the champion of your dish and shouldn’t be overwhelmed by other ingredients.”

Mince your garlic

“My chef heart can’t handle it,” says Semenya of Mboweni’s use of unchopped garlic.

“Garlic should be minced. And remember the longer you cook garlic the stronger it will be in your final product.”

Mince garlic by pressing it down with the flat side of a knife or even a tea cup. Then make sure to chop it fine.

Peel your tomatoes

If you intend on making a stew that includes tomatoes, simmer them in boiling water for a few minutes and then drop them into ice water, says Semenya. This makes them easier to peel. Rather use peeled tomatoes than tomatoes with their skins on. This is for final appearance and texture.

Chop your peppers

Sweet peppers are best chopped into smaller uniform pieces, this ensures even cooking and keeps the peppers more intact instead of becoming a soft mush.

Don’t stew your onions too long

Cook off the onions separately, in some butter (preferably) and only cook them until they become soft and translucent. Onions become sweeter if they’re allowed to cook off and soften first. If you overcook them they will become bitter.

Don't cook canned pilchards 

Canned pilchards are cooked already. “Depending on the final texture you’re aiming for, only add them to your cooked vegetables once the vegetables are cooked through and ready.”

Following the steps above, and adding half a cup of chopped up fresh basil, a teaspoon of smoked paprika and about a tablespoon of BBQ spice, Semenya created a pilchard dish even he would eat.

Chef Lesego Semenya's version of the Mboweni pilchard stew.


More about Chef Lesego Semenya

After starting his career as an IT engineer, Semenya decided to pursue his interest in food. He studied at the Prue Leith Culinary Institute and after graduating, worked at The Westcliff hotel in Johannesburg as well as at Richard Branson's private game reserve in the Sabi Sands.

Over the years, he has worked as a personal chef for, among others, Howard Buffett (Warren Buffett's son) and prepared food for The British High Commission. 

He has grown to become a popular culinary figure in South Africa, with radio and television appearances. 

In 2018, he published a bestselling cookbook titled Dijo: My Food, My Journey.

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