If you’re from Cape Town chances are you’ve visited Canal Walk Mall at some point and more than likely have eaten at the bustling La rocca restaurant which is one of only 2 halaal retaurants at the mall. They are known for a varied menu but especially for their steaks and burgers. Today we get to know the person behind the scenes, cooking up a storm and keeping the La rocca offering fresh and exciting.
Abdurahmaan Theunissen is only 25 years old. To be running a busy kitchen in this large and popular Cape Town restaurant is a definite testament to talent. Chef Abdu, as he is known by everyone in the restaurant is passionate and animated as he talks with me about his journey in the food business. His energy is contagious as he punches the air with his hands recounting stories from his training days and describing in vivid detail the beautiful dishes that inspire him. But let’s start at the beginning. It’s not that far back considering how young he is but nevertheless we start with some background on how how his journey got started.
Why did you choose to become a chef?
I was inspired by my grandmother when helping her in the kitchen as a young boy and without even realising it, my love of food and cooking took hold. As “boeta” growing up in Kensington, Cape Town, I found himself enjoying cooking for my 3 siblings and in a subliminal way the bug bit. In grade 11, I job shadowed at the Capetonian Hotel under executive chef Anwar Hanekom and that basically sealed the deal. When I chose to study to become a Professional Chef at Capsicum Culinary Studio I thought I was taking the easy way out. Little did I know the hard work that went into becoming a Chef. But it has all been worth it.
Where did you start in the business?
I interned at the Cape Grace Hotel for 6 months under Chef Malika van Reenen. I didn’t want to become the “masala mixer” or the Muslim boy who makes the Akhni, so I adopted a no limits attitude. I wanted to learn everything and I cooked everything in order to become really good. I qualified in 2011 with an International Professional Diploma in Culinary Arts. There was a short stint doing some private catering for tourists and VIP functions, 1 year at the Artscape Cafe and then a 6 gruelling months in Worcestire at the Golden Valley Casino, where my shift started at 5am till midnight, 7 days a week. It was amazing experience and would really set my work ethic but eventually it became too much and I had to tap out. There was a time after that I struggled to find work. I was selling koeksisters on a Sunday just to pay for my car. Then came my job at the Cullinan Hotel under Chef Lindsay Venn, who I would say is the biggest style influncer in my cooking. I was the commy chef, which is right at the bottom, but gave it 110% which paid off and slowly I was given more and more leeway to experiment in the kitchen and grow my own style. Chef Thando took me under his wing and I learned a lot from him. Then came La rocca in 2015 and now I’m running my own show which comes with huge challenges but I love the adrenalin.
Tell me a little about your family and the challenges of balancing work and home life.
In truth, there is no balance. I live and breathe my work. I have a wonderful girlfriend who totally gets it though and has stuck it out with me for a few years.
What’s your favourite type of food to cook and eat?
I don’t really have a favourite. I love cooking all types. It would depend on my mood I guess. I love to eat Sushi. I would have it for breakfast. But I never make my own though.
Any passions besides food?
I love music and play the guitar. Sometimes some friends and I just get together and jamm. I’m a rock n roll kinda guy.
What’s plans for the future?
I definitely still want to learn even more. I want to travel and get international experience.
Any advice for other young aspiring chefs?
“Bite the bullet and take it on the chin. This business is 10% talent and 90% hard work.”