Nuclear boffin turns his energy to coffee

14 August 2011 - 05:34 By BIÉNNE HUISMAN
Muhammed Lameen Abdul-Malik is a world away from the International Atomic Energy Agency in his Cape Town coffee shop Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Muhammed Lameen Abdul-Malik is a world away from the International Atomic Energy Agency in his Cape Town coffee shop Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Nobel peace-prize winner Muhammed Lameen Abdul-Malik has swapped a global career in nuclear energy to bake cakes in Cape Town.

Abdul-Malik was a programme management officer for the UN 's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which deals with nuclear resources around the world.

But when his contract expired, the 39-year-old father of two turned to baking and brewing coffee with equal scientific precision.

"I bake most of these cakes myself," he said, pointing to banana bread, chocolate brownies and a cheesecake on display at his coffee shop, Escape Caffé, in the city centre.

"For me, it's about retaining the moisture; I like moist cake."

A framed Nobel peace-prize certificate sits next to the shop door, alongside a poster of a British flag on which is written: "Keep calm and carry on."

In 2005, the IAEA and its director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei, won the Nobel prize for their efforts to ensure the safe use of nuclear energy and to prevent it from being used for military purposes.

Members of the agency inspect nuclear facilities around the world - including Koeberg power station in Cape Town - every month.

Abdul-Malik said inspections (headed by ElBaradei and the controversial Hans Blix) had proved Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

"We were trying to stop the invasion of Iraq from happening. We knew there weren't any nuclear weapons, that's why the UN did not sanction the invasion," he said. "We were watching the (US and UK) invasion at our office, feeling so mad, so upset. So, when we received the award, the acknowledgement that we tried to stop it came as such a relief."

The businessman was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and moved to Vienna, Austria, with his family when he was 12.

He studied economics at the University of Leicester and received an MBA from Exeter University in the UK before he started working at the IAEA in 2002.

During his seven years with the agency he managed operations in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Sudan, Sierra Leone and Mauritius.

But now in his cafe in Cape Town, he points to a cheesecake and says: "This cake is very popular. I perfected the recipe over many years especially to impress my wife. She loves it."

He said one of his cheesecakes fetched R1600 at a charity auction to raise funds for a school.

His wife, Lili, taught English in Vienna and now helps at the coffee shop.

She said: "When I met Lameen he was working for the British government and then later at the UN. I never knew it would come to this."

Lili added, however: "From our first date I knew he loved cooking as he made me a three-course meal."

Abdul-Malik fell in love with Cape Town while stopping over on connecting flights into Africa, and now he and his family live in Newlands.

Lili said that leaving their relatives in Vienna was tough. "We arrived here at the end of 2009. New Year's day was so tough, it was just the four of us sitting at the V&A Waterfront watching the fireworks and crying."

IAEA spokesman Giovanni Verlini said: "It's great to hear that Lameen is making waves in Cape Town."