On a beautiful Sunday morning, a day before he travelled back to Poland we had the honor of chatting to a Motswana chef living and plying his cooking skills in the diaspora, Joseph Seeletso.
Q. What brings you to our neck of the woods this time around?
It is always great to visit home as I look forward to all things that make Botswana beautiful. However this time around, I was in the country at the invitation of Mascom Cellular Network.
I had the privilege of attending the cellular network’s Tsena launch. Tsena is an online portal that serves as a gateway for the dissemination of information to the world.
In addition to attending the beautifully put together event, I was scheduled to speak at the same gathering, where I shared my journey to international recognition.
Q. Did you cater at the event?
Ha! Ha! Ha! No, but the spread was delectable, so big up to those that took care of that part of the event.
Q. Talking about food, what is your preferred cuisine?
As a chef it might seem like my interest would only be exotic or complicated cuisine but I am really a simple guy that enjoys home-prepared soul meals.
Being home affords me a chance to engage in my favorites such as bogobe jwa mabele with yogurt but preferably with madila and simple Setswana dishes.
You can’t go wrong with those.
Q.Gaborone has grown. What are your views on what is offered locally in terms of eateries?
I get a feeling that there are a lot of franchises and I am not interested in these, as I know what to expect.
They do not necessarily mirror the ethos of fine dining, which is set on high quality standards.
There is certainly room to develop genuinely authentic and healthy offerings for the Botswana and international market.
It is pleasing to experience home grown brands such as Sqotti that offers healthy, traditional food to their clientele.
Q.Your passion for food is undeniable, how did your love for food come about?
My father was a restaurant manager and we grew up visiting his place of work.
It was fascinating and during school holidays we would visit my grandparents (re ya gae) and this entailed going on adventures such as berry and root picking.
My aunts were also great cooks. One could not escape associating food with the coming together of people.
Whether in good times or sad times, sharing of meals is universal. Food brings people together.
As a lover of life I find that I am able to express myself best with the food I prepared and plated.
Q. You are widely recognized in and outside Poland through the long running cooking show you host on a popular Polish network television channel, cookbooks and opening of the high end Joseph Bistro and Wine.
In addition, the endorsement deals with high-end recognizable brands such as Gaggenau, Bosch, Samsung and Uncle Ben’s Rice you have garnered have also contributed to this. Do you consider yourself successful?
Oh thank you, but seriously though, I don’t think I am successful.
Not to play down all I have managed to accomplish but I truly worked and continue to work really hard.
I am just concentrating on what I am doing with a lot of projects I wish to see come to life.
I am always looking for new adventures and at the moment I am concentrating on breaking ground in Botswana, South Africa and Africa as a whole.
I have a dream and this is the time to work towards the dream.
Q. Are you in a position to elaborate on what your immediate plans are?
It is high time Batswana and the rest of the continent gets the opportunity to sample my cuisine.
I am looking at opening my pop up restaurant in Botswana next year.
It will probably run for two weeks and cater for only 40 people at a time so as to be able to serve a nine-course meal.
In addition I hope to use this platform to impart my expertise locally by engaging local chefs to be a part of the pop up restaurant.
They will not only learn from myself but also two young chefs who have worked with me for the last 7 years in Poland.
Through the pop up restaurant, I will share my philosophy on food. What inspires me; how I communicate with my clients through the food I prepare and ultimately stimulate happiness and gratitude from clients.
It is an essential part of the equation.
This sounds exciting…
It is important to pass on one’s knowledge.
I have had great mentors since my days at the prestigious Westminster Kingstown College and that is why when I’m in Botswana I do not miss the opportunity to meet former classmates and impart pearls of knowledge to them.
It is important to give one’s time especially where you can make a difference.
It is close to my heart to be a part of other’s development and growth.
Everyone deserves a push to fulfill their dreams.
Q. Are there any entities or companies reaching out to you to bring the Joseph Seeletso brand closer to Botswana?
I have thought long and hard about getting more involved in Botswana.
Of course it would be a lot easier if there were some help from stakeholders in a position to make it happen.
Although I enjoy the access my hard work has afforded me, I cannot help but wish to share more with my fellow countrymen.
I have faith in realizing this in the near future. I respect that we may be inclined to be slow in taking advantage of opportunities but it will happen.
Hopefully someone will come on board to assist in translating my cookbooks into English as they are currently in polish though they also include Setswana inspired recipes.
I yearn to impart the knowledge I have gained over the years with others who wish to grow in this deliriously satisfying line of work.
Q. You have lived in Poland for the past 13 years, Why Poland and how have you managed to make a life in a foreign land where English is not a first language?
(Great laugh) Are you really going to ask that? I met my partner when I was at a chef’s school in London.
We lived in the same hostel in Nottinghill gate. Upon completion we moved to Poland and later on lived in Botswana before settling back in Poland.
She is an economics and marketing major with her own ambitions, though extremely supportive of my career.
Initially living in Poland was not easy. There are few black folks in Poland and language was a barrier.
It was a challenge but my wife and in-laws are wonderful and extremely supportive.
They were a great help and continue to be a pillar of strength for my family.
It was also my drive to establish myself and I put in the work.
Q.Being a recognized figure in Poland, are you and your wife Karolina raising your kids in the limelight
My two boys are aware of my work and proud of what daddy does.
However as parents we teach them the values of reaping what one sows.
We discourage entitlement mentality so they don’t get to demand anything they have not worked for.
They are independent and just enjoy being children.
Though we live in Poland, we teach them both Setswana and Polish values.
They are proud Seeletsos. I can’t wait to bring them to Botswana so they experience their Setswana heritage.
Q. So they have not visited Botswana yet?
Heish… not yet hey. My work keeps me really busy and there has been a lot of travel.
I have concentrated on building the Joseph Seeletso brand and indeed have had to make a few sacrifices.
When at home, I share my upbringing experiences with them and tell them a lot about where they are from.
Q. What similarities are there between Botswana and Poland?
Batswana have a deep sense of culture and are guided by tradition.
This also mirrors the Polish way of life. Botho is truly a universal language.
People are kind, hardworking and genuinely believe in the upliftment of others.
It is a catholic country and I am catholic so that is comforting and connects the citizens.
Q. You have an illustrious portfolio, what have been some of your career highlights?
Oh man, I have had quite a ride. My engagement at embassies has been fulfilling.
I have cooked for some very important people who gave positive feedback of my work including King Carl Gustav and Queen Silvia of Sweden.
A state banquet in Tokyo, Japan where we prepared a 4 -course meal for 240 people was also very fulfilling.
Hosting a live cook show on television (TV chef) and getting recognition from the entire country is surreal.
Though it was intimidating at first, I no longer felt like an outsider.
I was also on CNN promoting polish cuisine (ambassadorial role), which was exposure for me and of course also showed that Poland was an inclusive society.
Q. If you could have any guest you wanted, who would be at your table and what would you serve
It would be my pleasure to host Pope John Paul, President Barack Obama, Sir Seretse Khama, My late father David Seeletso, Mmasekgowa Masire Mwamba – who gave me my first assignment in America whilst at Bedia, Sekokotlo Kaboyamodimo the poet, the revered Dr Gaositwe Chiepe, the classical musician Frederic Chopin, Fashion Designer Alexander McQueen and his Excellency the President Lieutenant General Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama.
I would go for a simple, understated meal that comprises of wild fruit; vegetables and my interpretation of Botswana signature dishes that I am sure would be a hit with the guests.
I would serve an easy, versatile style wine to complement the meal.
Perhaps a Riesling wine would do.
Q. Away from the world of food, what other interests do you have?
I enjoy golf, although I hardly get a chance to play anymore and I thoroughly enjoy reading, especially history and culture books as well as biographies.
Joseph Seeletso went to Seepapitso Senior in Kanye.
He worked in a Bank in Jwaneng and volunteered at Mokala Lodge for 18 months to gain experience then Sheraton hotel for a year where he was fired.
“I had character and stood out. I didn’t take kindly to nasty treatment and was never afraid to speak my mind” Though I did not have a job lined up, I knew I was going places.
Then I worked for Mmakgodumo Lodge in Kanye while awaiting my scholarship approval.
“You must get out of the city and explore. Never restrict yourself for opportunities are everywhere. Although I was home for only five days, I made the most of it and even went to Mmathubudukwane where my mother is from “go dumedisa” and visit Madikwe River to get energized.
Nature is truly amazing