Nori’s sweet love of baking

Hleliswa Nori Cuba with her famous milktart, her favourite thing to bake.

Baker Hleliswa “Nori” Cuba never thought she would find a career she loved when she first started working in the city centre more than 12 years ago.

Now, she is the baker at Bread Milk & Honey in Spin Street, and she could not be happier than she is in the kitchen.

“I love baking so much. You can see by the way the treats are made that my heart is there,” says Nori.

Born in Cala in the Eastern Cape, Nori moved to Cape Town in 1988 because her mother was a domestic worker in Rylands. “I had to find work after I finished matric because my mother did not have money for me to study. She worked for a low wage.”

She found a job at Speakers Corner in Church Square, starting as a dishwasher, then working at the bar, making coffee and drinks.

“I came there clueless, so the owner, Michael (Knipe) taught me everything.”

The owners of Speakers Corner then bought the Spin Street store, called Bread Milk & Honey.

“As they prepared the store, I helped sort the shop until it opened in 2006.

“I moved back into the kitchen when I started at Bread Milk & Honey, making sandwiches and doing dishes, and also helping with the buffet.”

Nori says business partner Mandy Mitchell’s mother, Lillian, was the baker at the time. “I think Lillian saw my potential. I didn’t know a lot about baking, only the basics from Home Economics I learnt at school.

“Lillian taught me to bake. As she taught me, I would write everything in a book every day. I ended up coming up with my own recipe book. This carried on until I became Bread Milk & Honey’s baker.”

Nori says she had a small kitchen space but managed to produce everything the shop needed daily, including customers’ orders.

“But as the shop grew, they expanded the kitchen, so I have more space now.”

Nori says she now makes all sorts of treats, such as cupcakes, carrot cake, cheesecake, vanilla sponges, biscuits, sweets and muffins. “My favourite thing to make is milk tart. Everyone loves it, and so do I. When Lilian taught me and I could make it, she said ‘Nori you are the best, even better than me’.”

Monday February 27 is also National Milk Tart Day.

Nori says most bakeries don’t bake things themselves anymore, but it is much healthier to make cakes from scratch than outsourcing. “I think it’s important to make your own because then you know what you put into it. Nowadays, there are lots of added sugars and preservatives in cake. Here at Bread Milk & Honey everything is homemade, in a kitchen that’s like your home.”

She says she loves working in the city because it is accessible.

“I don’t struggle with transport or travelling. Most things happen in the city so I get to see many things and meet different people every day. Sometimes I will take walks through the city. She said when she first started working in the city 12 years ago, it was more dangerous than it is now, but the Central City Improvement District (CCID) and private security have helped.

“I love our location too, it is not in the middle of Cape Town’s rush.”

Nori said her dream is to ultimately start her own bakery and also to teach other women to bake.

“I think I am pretty good at what I do so I can share my expertise and knowledge with others who want to learn to bake.”