Jules Banyanga, sous chef at the Goma Serena Hotel, is a veteran in the kitchen but he never tires of learning and growing in the field of culinary arts. “The most rewarding thing for me right now is being part of the very first five-star hotel in Goma, now one of the best hotels in Congo,” said Banyanga.
Goma Serena Hotel, which opened in September 2020, is located in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) city of Goma, on shores of Lake Kivu near the border with Rwanda.
Banyanga has been a professional chef for over 20 years and his career has taken him to various hotels in Congo as well as the Gorillas Hotel group in Rwanda.
Says Banyanga, “People mistake this for easy work entailing mere cooking. But being a chef is about learning to cook and then practicing over and over so that you can excel.”
His hard work has paid off, having now achieved the number two position in a top-ranked hotel. “Working in a five-star hotel has allowed me to reach new levels and learn new recipes. And the fact that I keep on learning has been very good,” he said.
Joining Serena Hotels group, which has 23 hotels in five African countries, was a significant achievement, but, establishing a new hotel kitchen has not been easy.
“Every beginning is difficult but especially when it is a five-star hotel and during a pandemic,” he said. Before the hotel’s opening Banyanga and a group of other chefs travelled to Nairobi Serena to understand how a five-star hotel kitchen operates.
“It was a good idea because working with the new team in Goma later on was not difficult as we already got to know each other,” said Banyanga, who comes from the Bukavu, to the southwest.
Using already established menu concepts from the Serena Group greatly assisted him in designing meals for upmarket local and international guests.
“But Goma is still a virgin market and certain products are hard to find such as red and yellow bell peppers or certain meats.”
Food sourcing has been their biggest challenge and consequently they order a lot of ingredients from Nairobi, Kigali and Uganda.
“We import these items because of the quality that we need or some things you simply cannot find here.”
Balancing the tastes of local and foreign guests was another test for Banyanga as he seeks to satisfy their different visitors. Besides the usual international dishes expected in a luxury hotel, he has introduced Congolese foods such as makayabu which is dried, salted tilapia, and capitaine fish or Nile Perch.
“For vegetables we have sombe which is cooked cassava leaves, and lenga-lenga which are amaranth leaves. Another common vegetable is okra stew or dongo-dongo.”
Plantain and goat meat stew also feature in the Goma Serena menu. I particularly enjoyed the Poulet a la Mwamba (Mwamba chicken), a chicken dish cooked in peanut sauce, and grilled tilapia caught in Lake Kivu.
Finding qualified kitchen personnel is problematic as there are very few local institutions offering food production courses. A new hospitality institute recently opened in Goma and some secondary schools give lessons in kitchen training and cuisine, but the majority of Banyanga’s team has been trained on the job, at the hotel.
Nevertheless, he would like to see more Congolese youth trained in culinary arts. “This work takes courage and hard work, but the kitchen is a good place to have a rewarding career in terms of money and experience.”
One of the biggest events since the hotel’s opening was catering for the Kenya-DRC Trade Mission early December 2021, when all 109 rooms were booked.
They handled the group without a hitch.