James Lehlohonolo Vilakazi

Owner, Mama’s Boys

As a young boy, James Lehlohonolo Vilakazi grew up in a home packed with family and friends enjoying his mother’s delicious cooking.

His mother was known as Mama by everyone and she turned her skills into a formal business in 1995.

Now Vilakazi (33) is continuing that legacy by developing his own catering and events company, touchingly called Mama’s Boys in tribute to her.

The original Mama’s Caterers often collaborated with the popular food specialists By Word Of Mouth.

“We did a lot of presidentential affairs where we’d divide the menu in half and we’d do the African style of food,” Vilakazi says. “We catered for the presidential suite at the World Cup final and the ANC’s centenary celebrations.”

When his mother grew weak with stomach cancer Vilakazi became the general manager. But he had his own dreams too, and last year he launched Mama’s Boys in Meredale, Johannesburg.

“That allowed me to bring in the street food side that I love and mix it with a fusion of music because I love music as well,” he says.

His mother died in August 2013, but Vilakazi continues to build on her legacy as well as growing the new dimension of Mama’s Boys. As news about his company is spreading more bookings are coming in.

His team is expanding too with its trademark image of neat khaki pants, black golf shirts and sneakers. New employees are trained in-house, and Vilakazi eventually hopes to set up a mentorship scheme and a scholarship to send the most deserving candidates to the best cooking schools around the world.

His brother is also a chef (he trained in Malaysia), but Vilakazi has yet to persuade him to join his team.

He describes his ideal food as street gourmet that’s fancy but easy to eat. If he’s cooking for himself at home he’ll probably prepare boerewors and pap with tomato gravy and mango achar.

“I consider my company, particularly the training aspect of it, a true legacy of my late mother whose house was filled with warmth, family, friends and always the most delicious food,” he says. — Lesley Stones