CA turns to a career in the kitchen - but doesn't cook the books

CA Avhaathu Ntsho became a chef and plans to combine her skills in restaurant ownership.

After matric, Avhaathu Ntsho signed up for a three-year diploma called Financial Information Systems at Pretoria Tech. She completed the course, but realised in the process that her interest lay in finance, not computers, so she applied to UJ (then RAU) to convert her diploma into an undergraduate degree.

“From day one of being at RAU, I felt that I belonged. I felt like I had found my calling. It was so different from being at technicon, where we focused on practical stuff without understanding why we were doing it,” she says.

After two years at RAU – the bridging course and an honours year – she joined PwC to complete her articles. “I enjoyed my time. PwC was great and I had nice exposure to listed clients, but auditing wasn’t really for me,” she says. 

She then joined Standard Bank, which had a programme for newly qualified women CAs, and was exposed to various aspects of banking and finance within Investment Banking. She ended up in Business Banking, which is where she says the magic really happened for her. 

She recalls: 

“I was working with people that were starting businesses in a deal-making role, funding investor transactions, looking at whether the entrepreneurs were going to be able to repay the bank. I was fascinated by it all.” 

Even so, she left Standard Bank and moved on to a property company, but when that didn’t work out she took the surprise decision to sign up with the Prue Leith Chefs Academy, and ventured into the kitchen as a junior sous chef. 

“I blame it on having babies,” she says. “When I had my first baby in 2011, I became very domesticated. I watched a lot of Food Network and started to experiment in the kitchen.”

When she fell pregnant again in 2013, she says she’d had a sudden urge to be in business. So she bought herself a vending machine business. “I was literally pushing a trolley with stock, while also pushing a belly in front of me.”

And then, when her third child came along in 2016, she felt an urgent desire to be creative. “I was sure I wasn’t just meant to be an accountant, so I thought why not give this chef thing a go?”

She had planned to go into the restaurant business in Joburg, but her husband was offered a job in East London, so last year, she packed up her family and moved down to the Eastern Cape.

“I had done all my planning for Joburg, and all of a sudden, I was in a new environment, and I didn’t think that the same thing would work down here,” she says.

Now, while she’s settling down and getting to know the lay of the land, she’s working for herself as an accountant again. She has also created a blog, accountantinthekitchen.co.za, where she shares her journey from the office to the kitchen, her love of food, personal finance tips and reviews of restaurants in East London.

She believes that her accounting background will make her a better chef and restaurant owner. 

“Most restaurants go out of business because the owners don’t understand the finance side of the equation. If you want to be a chef, you need to be creative, but you also need to understand finances like recipe costing and food waste, and the impact that will have on the business. I bring more to the table than someone who is just a chef, because it’s not just about the food.”