MASERU — The next time you pick a shelved pie or pizza in Woolworths, think of the name Sekamotho Moteane.
A humble Mosotho woman who dared to abandon law studies mid-stream to pursue her real passion, Ska — as her friends affectionately call her — has achieved a lot at the age of 31.
She has worked for Oprah Winfrey and has cooked for some of South Africa’s best-known celebrities — Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Miriam Makeba and Tito Mboweni, to name a few.
It all started when she fell in love with cooking in her mother’s kitchen at a tender age.
Today she has turned her lifelong hobby into a career after starting her business and kitchen-wear line.
Ska, 31, was born and raised in Lesotho.
She did her primary school in Thaba-Tseka before moving with her family to Lithabaneng in Maseru — the place she calls home to this day.
But in between Thaba-Tseka and today, she has travelled a journey that many can only dream of.
Like most girls, she was expected to do the cooking at home but her love for the kitchen also grew as she got involved in the family businesses.
They owned a bakery and a lodge.
“I was expected to help out with the cooking at home and also at my parents’ businesses, so that’s where the love for cooking comes from,” she told Xpress People.
After completing high school at St Stephen’s in Mohale’s Hoek, Ska wanted to become a chef but, because there were no tertiary institutions providing the course in Lesotho, she opted to study law at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).
“After high school I wanted to take cooking seriously but there were no local schools providing the course I wanted,” she recalled.
“I opted to study for a degree in law so that I could further my education.”
But the cooking bug had bitten Ska hard.
It took her two years to realise her purpose in life was to be a chef. During her second year she took the brave decision of dropping out of NUL.
“I wasn’t struggling at school but I realised the law faculty wasn’t the place for me so I decided to leave to pursue cooking as a profession,” Ska reminisced.
She left for South Africa to do a one-year introductory cooking course at the Food Studio in Pretoria, where she eventually landed her first job.
While working at the Food Studio, word of her exceptional culinary skills got out and Ska was soon head-hunted by one of South Africa’s top restaurants, Moerdijks.
She worked there as head chef for more than two years before leaving to work for Rhodes Food Group in the Western Cape.
At Rhodes, Ska worked in the division called Wonderland Foods which exclusively produces recipe dishes for South Africa’s renowned Woolworths food stores.
“At Wonderland Foods, I developed recipes from scratch,” she said.
“It was exciting especially the feeling of working for such a reputable company.”
“Being at Rhodes added real value to my career,” she added.
“I enjoyed working, sometimes throughout the night, to develop a product while looking forward to the day the product would hit the shelves and seeing people buy it.
“It is the most fulfilling experience.”
Ska is the brains behind Woolworths’ shelved pies and pizzas.
She has upgraded and helped develop the retailer’s plate pie range and the frozen pie range.
It was throughout this time that Ska got a chance to cook for several luminaries in South Africa.
In 2006, Ska left Rhodes to work for the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy as project manager in the catering division.
At the school she got the rare opportunity to meet Oprah Winfrey, a role model for millions of women across the globe.
“Meeting Oprah was the highlight of my career,” Ska enthused.
“Oprah is one of the most wonderful people I have met.
“I learnt a lot from her. She is just amazing because she is no different from what we all see on television.”
Coincidentally, Ska’s role model in the business is Art Smith — the American top chef who has also been Oprah’s personal chef for more than a decade.
However, after spending most of her career in South Africa where her work was well appreciated and rewarded, Ska decided to return home.
She came back to Lesotho last year to set up her own business venture.
“It was my mission from the onset to go to South Africa, explore the market and learn all the skills I needed to grow my career and then come back home to invest in my country,” she said.
“So I woke up one morning and decided it was time to come back.”
Ska said the reception she got in Lesotho from the market was overwhelming even though she felt getting people to understand her work was a bit challenging in the beginning.
She now owns a consultancy company – Ska’s Kitchen – which has done work for local companies like Fruit & Veg City and Lesotho Flour Mills.
“The first few months when I started, business was quite low but now it’s booming,” Ska said.
“The cooking industry in Lesotho has potential to grow. It’s exciting and very competitive.”
Ska now wants to diversify her product range as well.
She has launched a kitchen wear label called Mokorotlo Cook Wear and plans to open her own food studio next year.
The studio will offer cooking lessons to aspiring Basotho chefs, something which Ska could not get when she needed it as a young student.
With her unshakeable passion for cooking and determination to see her dreams succeed, it is no wonder there’s always something cooking in Ska’s kitchen.