Ramadhan Sindayigaya, is the sous chef at Cucina Restaurant at the Kigali Marriott Hotel. Clad in his white chef’s uniform, Sindayigaya, mostly referred to as Chef Rama by his colleagues, is tall and appears calm and friendly.
Second in command in the kitchen, after the executive chef of the five-star hotel, he joined in June 2017.
He defines a sous chef as “a technician”, one who is required to create new dishes, taste the food and handle complaints.
His work requires a lot of tasks and on an average day, he arrives at work at 9:30 in the morning because he has to begin work at 10:30. He begins duty by checking stores for any missing or required items, then goes through his emails and messages for any reservations, gets briefings from executive chiefs and checks on his staff to make sure they are present and fine.
Cucina Restaurant closes at 11pm and so he goes home around midnight. As a newly married man, Sindayigaya gets only a few hours of rest, and admits that he doesn’t as much time with his family as he’d like, however, he uses his leave days to ‘catch up’ with them.
Growing up, Sindayigaya was surrounded by a family of cooks. He was raised by his grandmother whose favourite place was the kitchen and who often engaged him in preparing meals.
His stepmother was also a chef who owned a restaurant in Kigali but later moved her business to Argentina.
Given his background, Sindayigaya knew that he had the passion for cooking but reveals that he did not imagine himself in the culinary business. He opted to study computer engineering and information technology at University of Rwanda immediately after high school.
After graduation, he realised that he had followed a path that was not meant for him.
“I quickly realised that the best thing I could do better than anything else was cooking. I followed my passion and since I did not have professional skills, I applied for a job at Sheraton Kampala in 2007 and it was during that training that I decided that I would focus on this profession. I learned a lot because I had a chance to learn different dishes,” he says.
Stewarding involves assisting other chefs, and it is from here that he bred more love for cooking, while learning some culinary skills. A few years later he enrolled at Utali College in Kenya, a hospitality and tourism training institution to upgrade his culinary skills.
On completion of his course, he came back to Rwanda and joined Kigali Serena Hotel in 2008 where he worked for four years before moving to Arusha Tanzania, where he worked as a pastry sous chef.
He later returned and joined The Manor Hotel in 2012 as a pastry chef where he made decisions. He later joined Akagera Game Lodge where he worked as an executive chef for three years. He recalls this period as one of the highlights of his career.
“During my time at the Akagera Game Lodge, I implemented new dishes and built a new team and helped revamp the whole culinary section. It is rare to find a chef who works both in hot kitchen and pastry,” he recalls.
He left Akagera Game Lodge last year for Kigali Marriott Hotel.
With nine years culinary experience, the 31-year-old tastes what others cook and judges the food, then draws menus and interacts with clients to make sure that they are happy with the service and food served to them.
LOVING HIS PROFESSION
It is moments like this, and a career that spans more than two decades, that motivate the seasoned chef. For him, being a chef is not just a passion, rather, a calling.
“Having over nine years of experience is my biggest achievement and I do not see myself leaving this profession. I have come a long way and being a chef at an international hotel and managing a VIP restaurant in Kigali at my age is overwhelming. This is why I think that this profession is my calling,” he says.
Sindayigaya says he’s been exposed to many international clients and dishes, courtesy of the hotel.
“Cucina Restaurant prepares Italian and Mediterranean food and receives many VIPs. I have had a chance to host presidents and AU delegates during the past events. You cannot do this job when you’re moody and therefore you have to be positive and jovial if you are to be effective. I am mostly happy when I receive good reviews and feedback from our guests,” he says.
His toughest moment, he reveals, is when he doesn’t have a good team because then, it becomes difficult to satisfy his clients and achieve his goals.
Besides paying bills, Sindayigaya says the profession has taken him many places and he is set to participate in several competitions.
He is slated to participate in the regional Gorilla Highland Silverchef Competition on April 28 this year which will be held at the Kigali Marriott Hotel. He will also attend the African Young African Chef (AYCC) Competition in May 2018 that will take place in Lagos, Nigeria.
“I’ve been chosen as a Rwandan chef with afro-fusion cuisine. And it’s a good time to raise the Rwandan Flag,” he says.
He urges young Rwandans to embrace this profession and showcase their talent regardless of their gender, especially when the country is focusing revamping the hospitality sector.
Favourite food: Nyama choma
Signature dish: He has prepared many dishes and he can hardly point out one. As long as clients enjoy a meal, he feels satisfied that he has done his job well.
How he deals with challenges: He uses his experience to handle them.
Top ingredients: Salmon fish, rice, basil, olive oil, local beans, potatoes, beet root and mango.
Tips: Hygiene, accuracy in measurements to avoid wastage, time management.
Advice to aspiring chefs: Being a chef requires one to put in their all. Be creative and love your job because it pays your bills.