CRUSH CHATS TO Graham Isaacson
Co-owner & Chef at The Lime Tree Café
You have been in the industry for some time; tell us a bit about your history up until now…
I trained formally in the food industry before I went to the army. As a schoolboy, I worked as an underage ‘handlanger’ at a 5 star restaurant called The Almondbury, in Lakeside. I also worked as a casual at The Old Cape Farm Stall in Constantia with Judy and Andre Badenhorst, which was a true farm stall – an environment I still enjoy. I also worked for a season as a sous chef in the UK under John Tovey at The Miller Howe in the Lake District.
I then worked at The New Old Cape Farmstall in Constantia, and after it was sold I purchased a food factory, supplying food to restaurants, hotels and supermarkets.
Did you miss being hands on in a restaurant when you were running the food factory?
Yes, I still really wanted to be in the restaurant industry so I grabbed the opportunity when Judy suggested we open a café on Constantia Uitsig. We opened the Spaanschemat River Café which was a roaring success.
What did you do after you and Judy sold the Café?
After we sold the café I went on to be the executive chef at The Mount Nelson Hotel, filling in while they looked for a permanent executive chef, gaining fine dining experience. I then worked as a consultant for many establishments before purchasing a restaurant on Imhoff Farm in Kommetjie, with my now business partner, Rael Abramowitz. We ended up owning 6 businesses together, 3 of which are restaurants, as well as a successful farm stall and deli. We have just recently opened Limetree Café in Bergvliet.
Was a career in food always what you wanted to pursue, what motivated this choice?
While working at the Almondbury I spent as much time as I could gaining experience under the amazing chef and owner, Ming van Elst. I was in charge of the dessert trolley and a stand-in, when she had a day off, on the grill. I gained many insights into the industry by working with her as well as absorbing her passion for food. I have yet to meet a chef who maximizes every part of an animal or plant so well…
I knew that I could offer the industry something different and being fiercely independent, I knew I wanted to be self-employed eventually, for creative reasons!
Being a restaurateur for some time you must have seen the industry change quite a bit – what are some of the more notable changes you’ve seen?
In the time that I have been involved in the industry I have seen many trends come and go, but the basics always re-appear. I still like layered flavours and highly visually appealing food – man-handled or over-manipulated foods put me off.
You’ve opened your latest venture Lime Tree Café in Bergvliet, tell us a bit about how this came about.
After taking time off to re-charge after the success of Imhoff Farm, I inevitably started to put out feelers for new ventures and a creative outlet. When my business partner and I heard that this site was available, we made enquiries and one thing led to another…
Describe the café’s food style and vibe.
We have created a clean, light, fresh environment as a basis for our food, which is synonymous with my previous forays in the industry. Certain winners remain as constants on our menu and we continue to respond appropriately to customer’s needs, likes and dislikes while raising the standards.
The café has a deli section as well a gorgeous range of bottled relishes and pickles; are these all made by you?
In another life I think I would have been a mad scientist – I treat my kitchen like a laboratory of discovery and flavours! I love mixing and borrowing flavours from all-over, including my friends. I develop products and sell them in the deli, as I did on the farm, from cheese to bottled goods, baked goods, salad dressings, sauces and sweets.
I also make cold-method soaps with olive oils and essential oils…
What’s the strangest or funniest request/situation you’ve ever had from/with a dining patron?
I must admit that with Judy Badenhorst at the River Café, we had an enormous amount of fun – the unexpected success of the restaurant caught us unprepared in many situations and for a while we functioned on the edge of hysteria. One day I will share some of those hilarious stories.
Finally, do you have a favourite ingredient that you love cooking with and if so, what do you prepare with it?
My favourites are Asian flavours used with Mediterranean basics, which encompass every taste sense and liven up the ingredients. Lemon, lime, ginger, chilli, coriander, garlic… in many combinations, on meat, pasta, vegetables… basically anything!