MasterChef runner-up Leandri van der Wat is about to launch her own coffee roaster called Roast Republic in Midrand. GH catches up with the chemistry master’s student.

MasterChef runner-up Leandri van der Wat is about to launch her own coffee roaster called Roast Republic in Midrand. GH catches up with the chemistry master’s student.

Tell us about life after MasterChef. What have you been doing?

It has been rather crazy at times! I’ve done the odd demonstrations, a few catering jobs at corporate events and at people’s houses, and quite a bit of food writing. Some days I am run off my feet, and others I can just get on with ‘normal’ life. Things seem to be reaching equilibrium now; I have a few big engagements and then I can get on with the roastery and my master’s degree. I have really been juggling life and I’m happy for it to settle down a bit. Now I can focus on what I really want to do.

You are staring a new business, called Roast Republic. Tell us about it.

Roast Republic is a coffee roaster that works purely by online sales, and the odd market. I love coffee! I have had a very serious passion for it since I was very young. I think that coffee culture just suits me, it’s relaxed, friendly and it’s a growing industry.

Charity is one of your passions. How are you combining your love for helping others with your new venture?

I travelled to some African countries in 2012 and volunteered on different projects. I was struck by the fact that a lot of it is one sided and hand-out based. What we are doing, in essence, is crippling people by creating a beggar mentality. I really struggled with that when I came back, just asking, ‘how can I help with sustainable change?’.

The answer came when Jaco de Witt, now one of my business partners, came to Matt Carter and me with the idea to use the coffee sales for sustainable change. I like that idea.

We’ve decided to work with World Vision SA because they are internationally recognised and their work is transparent. We visited two amazing schools with the board of directors last year and now we’re planning on using the funds generated from our coffee sales to take one of them – an ordinary rural school called Enable – to new heights. We want to get a vegetable garden project started, as well as ensure good hygiene (with hand-washing stations). We really don’t want to just give hand-outs, rather we want to enable children to pursue their own dreams – money doesn’t do that; education does.

So essentially Roast Republic is a coffee roastery that roasts and sells coffee. We like to call it ‘coffee with a conscience’ because we’re offering customers the chance to drink great coffee and do something for others at the same time. We give 50% of our profits to World Vision SA.

From 31 January, customers can order coffee via our website, choosing where to collect it from a few schools, churches and small businesses that have offered to be distribution points within communities. We would like people to sign up by debit order for their monthly coffee for 12 months, so that they can fall in with the academic year.

What MasterChef life lessons can you share with GH readers, and which are you specifically keeping in mind for your business?

Phew. This is my first business venture and it’s really scary! I had heard about people feeling so accomplished when they started their own business and I thought they were exaggerating, but it is a lot of hard work – you really put yourself out there. I reached a stage a few weeks ago when I realised that my dream is really scaring me! They say if your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough. That is something I had to face at MasterChef – there is this deep fear within us of failure and you have to face it to ever truly succeed.

So what I have decided is:

1) To abandon fear, otherwise it masters you and holds you back from thriving.

2) To make peace with the fact that not everybody will like what Roast Republic is, and what it stands for. Some won’t even like our coffee! That’s life. I am prepared to stand by what I believe in. (On MasterChef that was often the case too.)

3) I won’t conduct myself as if my entire life depends on whether my business becomes an overnight success or a failure. I am super-passionate about the project, but I won’t let it rule my life and dictate my behaviour. There are bigger things at play. (I never took MasterChef too seriously in that regard either.)

Finally, what’s next?

So, so much is happening! We’ve spoken to some cookery-book publishers, which is so exciting! Together, Seline (my sister and fellow MasterChef contestant) and I are ambassadors for the Coffee and Chocolate Expo this year. We have a column in the Beeld newspaper called ‘Vinkel en Koljander’ (fennel and coriander). A plan for us to do quite a bit of cooking at the Good Food and Wine Shows this year is in the pipelines. We’ll also be cooking and doing demonstrations at the KKNK, and filming a small series on local cuisine, focusing on traceability in meat production. Kenwood has been kind enough to partner with us, as have Style36 and 5 Rooms, who make sure we stay on trend. Overall, life is pretty great!

To place your online coffee order, visit www.roastrepublic.co.za. And here’s a great rusk recipe to go with it!

This post first appeared on Good Housekeeping South Africa in January 2014.