Many Americans love the taste and smell of Southern cuisine, such as macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and waffles, burgers and fries.
Now, men and women from townships and villages in South Africa are being trained to cook some of these dishes at an inner-city Johannesburg restaurant.
Chicken coated in a batter of secret spices sizzles in oil. At the Mr. Big Stuff eatery, even the squares of macaroni and cheese, known as mac ‘n’ cheese, are deep fried.
Here in the heart of Johannesburg, customers sit in booths similar to that of an American diner.
At one table, students in fashionable clothes hungrily eat burgers. At another,two lawyers in black suits and lacy white court collars eat waffles topped withchicken strips.
Food blogger Thando Moleketi says Mr. Big Stuff‘s fried chicken is the bestshe’s tasted.
“It’s like the Colonel‘s fried chicken [Colonel Sanders‘ founder of KFC,Kentucky Fried Chicken] but crispier. And then the sweet waffle is like lightand fluffy, topped with that mustardy syrup; it’s just phenomenal. … It’s really good Southern [American] food more than anything else.”
Craig Durrant is co-owner of Mr. Big Stuff eatery. He says the “heartbeat” ofhis business is a team of African chefs trained by an American food expert.
Zimbabwean Makhosi Khumalo is one of them. He says he loves “going all-American” by serving up burgers for breakfast.
“I really enjoy the Crazy Rebel, yeah. We’ve got bacon there; it’s a doublecheese. You‘re having a classic breakfast. And lunch at the same time!” (Laughs.)
But, initially, Makhosi Khumalo doubted the restaurant would be a success.
“When they called me for the interview and they showed me the menu andthey were like, This is what you‘ll be selling.’ I was like, Are you kidding me? (laughs) How can I sell this? I’ve never seen anything like this!'”
He says trying to convince some people to eat bacon with maple syrup andwaffles for breakfast has indeed been challenging.
“They‘re normally used to waffles as dessert.” (Laughs.)
Craig Durrant acknowledges some still hesitate to try the “more quirky” orunusual American recipes.
“They look straight at the chicken n waffles and they go like, This is a bit weirdfor me, this is a bit full-on, you know.’ … We’re really happy with it so far.
A woman orders another Mr. Big Stuff specialty.
Thando Moleketi commends the restaurant for “challenging South Africa” byoffering food never before seen in the country, like its mac ‘n’ cheese burger.
“So it’s a normal burger with a slice of mac ‘n’ cheese on top I mean, that’s insane. It is insane but delicious!”
Thando Moleketi says the nation‘s ready for uniquely American food becausetastes here are “expanding rapidly.”
“A year ago I’m not sure if people would have been as receptive to chicken ‘n’waffles. But now South Africans are kind of broadening their palate, and willing to experiment with two flavors that they‘re used to having, but separately.”
Makhosi Khumalo says he is proud to be part of what he calls a “food revolution,” and proud to be an African chef making American food.
“We get Americans coming here and they‘re like, ‘We only thought we get this only in our country, you know!’ “
As more customers line up, and as more classic American tunes play fromMr. Big Stuff‘s sound system, Makhosi Khumalo‘s eyes light up … wondering if his bosses are ready for his recipes for deep fried oysters and corn dogs.