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Food and whisky pairing takes root in Nairobi


The guests sat patiently with muted conversations as Felix gave his all to the saxophone. There were about 30 here, men and women attracted by the allure of fine dining curated by one of Kenya’s finest chefs.

Kimani Kiarie, popularly known as Chef Kim, had promised more than just a good meal meant to tease all the senses. He was creating a culinary journey where food would be paired with some of the best whiskeys in town.

While most people might be conversant with food and wine pairing, pairing food and whisky is a current fad that is fast gaining currency in the city’s robust food scene.

It is a journey that brings out the rich, bold flavours in the whisky and blends them with the various food elements and textures that go hand in hand.

Part of the process was the ability to replicate those palate notes in the whisky onto the meat or fish dishes in addition to infusing whisky into the ice cream which was part of the dessert.

“All the senses must work together to bring out the complementary roles of the food and whisky,” Kim said to the now attentive crowd. Notably, his restaurant in Kilimani, Nairobi, is aptly called Five Senses.

The whisky of choice for the evening was The Glenlivet. As the evening wore on at Kim’s eatery, the first shots (all pun intended) were fired to accompany the pan-seared scallops, apple purée with smoked bacon.

A whisky aged 12 years brought in the element of ‘surf and turf’, the scallops being slightly sweet and fleshy on the palate while the combination of the roasted apple purée highlighted the exotic fruity notes in the whisky.

Whisky though, is to be taken slowly, as Milo Winstone who has taken enough time with the drinks explained. “Take your time with the whisky,” he said. 

“How much can you get out of it? Have a look at it. Hold it to the light and take in the light golden colour. The angel’s tears (droplets that hold onto the glass when it is shaken or tilted) tell the consistency of the whisky. This particular one has a double oak maturation of 12 years. Start young and end high.”

The second course consisted of lamb and mixed lentil Harira. The meal was paired with a whisky aged 15 years.

“The whisky is bold, creamy and rich on the nose, with hints of cinnamon and ginger on the palate,” said Milo as Kim took the diners through the dish.

The dish, the duo added, needed to be rich — not too fatty but meaty. Lamb was a perfect choice, full of flavour compared to beef while the whisky complimented that aspect as well as the lentils that are lightly nutty when dry fried.

The third course was a special treat consisting of squid ink rice and baked salmon, paired with the Founder’s Reserve.

Are we to see more of such food and drink pairings? Yes, according to Kim. “The world is becoming a global village,” he says. “With internet and extra cash to spend, the middle class is adopting what they deem to be a high-end lifestyle.” 

And there are health benefits too. Moderate amounts of the right drink aids in digestion, he says, and a good way to get the full benefits of heavy foods such as meat. “Good food and quality drinks become hallmarks of a good life. It is pleasurable but also depicts class and we all like to be deemed classy and trendy. Food that is well paired with wine, whisky, gin or any other pairable drink compliments and gives depth to the taste and enhances the whole experience.”

 Chef Kimani Kiarie of Five Senses, Kilimani, Nairobi. 

Kim should know as he learnt from the best in the industry. He had secured an internship at a restaurant in Le Meurice Hotel, Paris run by globally-renowned chef, Alain Ducasse who counts among his clients, former US President Barack Obama.

Kim later enrolled in Ecole Ducasse culinary school in France for an Advanced Diploma in Culinary Arts, perfecting his craft before another stint at Ducasse’s restaurant in Doha, Qatar.

Kim hopes to duplicate his success with French gastronomy peppered with family-grown herbs such as lavender, mint, sage, oregano, paisley and edible flowers.

All said and done, all a man ever wanted was to visit the local pub, grab a pint and engage in some banter with friends before heading home. But pairing food with either wines or spirits points to changing times for those who love the tipple. It is a cultural change, a different outlook on enjoying one’s drink.

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