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Route360 - Isaac Monaheng
Isaac Monaheng was born in Kayamandi, in 1946. His father was from the Eastern Cape. When Isaac was still young he moved back to the Eastern Cape together with his father. He only came back many years later, in 1978. And back in Stellenbosch, he started working at a wine estate. Isaac loved the wine. Which is a crazy thing because he is not a drinker and he never tasted any wine. But from the smell of the wine he could tell what kind of wine it was: sweet, dry, fruity etc. While working at the wine estate, Isaac dreamed of becoming a truck driver. And thus in 1983 he got his driver’s license. He got this dream, but never got to do it. He didn’t know what he knows now, that he loves cooking and would become a well-known chef.
In that year Isaac ended up at Mama Roma, an Italian restaurant in Stellenbosch. His mother and father taught him how to cook, but he never thought about becoming a chef. The owners of Mama Roma needed to ask Isaac three times to come and work for them. “I told them that I would think about it, because I wasn’t interested of cooking. Not knowing that this would become my career, not knowing that I would fall in love. At that moment it was about the money, they offered me a job which was paid better than the one at the wine estate. So I told them, just give me a couple of weeks, see how I am doing, otherwise no I don’t do it.” It was for the first time that Isaac heard the names of the Italian dishes. So he started to study them, he couldn’t even pronounce the funny names, such as Napolitano.
Isaac was thinking that he wasn’t doing that well in the kitchen. And one Sunday, payday, the owners wanted to talk with him. “I told myself no, no, no why do I have to wait until they fire me? I will walk away before they will do that. And thus I walked away. But the owner told, no come back come back! Asking me, are you sure you never worked in a kitchen? Then I walked away again! The owner, no come back come back. I said, no I don’t want to work in a kitchen. Then the owner said, we want to compliment you. You do better than the people who come here and claim to be chefs.” A couple of weeks later Isaac started to love cooking.
At Mama Roma he gained experience, enough experience to end up at the most exciting places, La Couronne in Franschoek, La Galiot, Arabella, every hotel or restaurant offering him more money. Isaac even went to Zurich (Switserland) to gain more experience in a restaurant there, he also went to the hotel school restaurant. “It was like a black curtain before my eyes opened, because what those people there were doing was so different from how I knew or learnt it.” Despite the experience Isaac gained in Zurich, he was feeling lonely and homesick, it was his first time away from home. And thus he decided to go back home. Here Isaac become a famous chef and he even made it as a taste chef.
In 2008 Isaac stopped working. He opened a business (Taste-of-flavors or Tatso-Ya-Dinoko catering) himself because he loves cooking. “Cooking is my passion. That is the reason why I opened Taste-of-Flavors, I was a taste chef and now I wanted to go back to cooking. And I would be mixing flavors and all this.” 2008-2010 weren’t easy for Isaac. After all those years working in chic restaurants, Isaac learnt to use good ingredients and to strive after good quality food and experiences for the client. “I was suffering, because people want the good food, but they don’t want to spend money on it, and I don’t wanna use cheap ingredients, I don’t believe in that. I believe in doing something right, you know with the good ingredients. The food is presenting who I am, it is about where I come from and about my background. I must make food that waters mouths. They must let me cook the way I am.”
Anyway, Isaac is not done cooking, his Taste-of-Flavors catering still exists and many ideas for the future are in his mind. At this moment Isaac trains one person slowly to become a chef, but to train more people he needs a bigger space. Many in Kayamandi and Stellenbosch surroundings will never be able to pay the amount of money for a course at the hotel school, that’s why Isaac would like to offer these people another way of becoming chef. Isaac knows how to train young cooks, all those years he was a head chef he trained ±70 people, who are now head chefs at several chic hotels and restaurants.
Another idea, supported by many who has tasted Isaac’s food, is to open up a small restaurant in Kayamandi, in his own garden. People tell Isaac “your food is nice, I really like it the way it is cooked, but now we want to come to a place.” And Isaac would like to combine the lovely Kayamandi atmosphere, the amazing view and the excellent food, all in front of his own house and kitchen. And even then he would be able to give some cooks a chance, and train them while they work for him in his restaurant. Isaac worked hard his whole life, but he is not yet done. According to him “People must be more faithful and not give up that soon. Some people have really good ideas, but they don’t have the courage and the patience to do it. It is all possible by working hard and not giving up.”