KIRAN JETHWA, 36, is not your average chef who savours time spent in the kitchen whipping up gourmets, he is also an accomplished businessman, a successful TV host and producer and until recently, an ardent rugby player. He shares his world with MAUREEN AKINYI
You are a new face to many. Kindly tell us something about yourself.
I am the Executive Head Chef and Owner of Seven Restaurants Ltd, which comprises of two restaurants Seafood and Grill at ABC Place & Seven Lounge & Grill at Village Market. I am also the host of the first East African culinary adventure show, Tales from Bush Larder, which is exclusive to Zuku in East Africa. The show has also been bought by Fox International, who are currently airing it in Spain, Portugal, Finland, The Netherlands, The Balkans, France, Bulgaria and will be rolling out across Asia, and the rest of Europe over the year.
Tell us a little about your background.
I am a third generation Kenyan born of an Indian father and English mother. My paternal grandfather came from India and my mother left England for Uganda in the 1950s before she settled here in Kenya. I am the first of three boys and I have lived in Kenya for most of my life. I have worked in kitchens since I was 18 years old.
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After completing my Bachelor of Science degree in hospitality management in 1999 at the University of Manchester UK, I trotted the globe across the US, Europe, South Africa and Australia, honing my culinary skills.
Other than cooking, what are your other interests?
I also have a special place in my heart for sport, particularly rugby, in which my highest achievement is being capped several times for the Kenya national team. Although I no longer play rugby, I remain an ardent supporter of the game in Kenya, particularly our Sevens Team, and of course I’m still heavily involved with the best club in Kenya — Nondies!
Your show Tales from the Bush Larder is not only unique, but has become immensely successful, where did the idea come from?
The first series is a co-production between Zuku and Quite Bright Films and first aired on Zuku Afrika from September last year. The 12-part series takes the viewers on a tour of Kenya’s unusual and unknown gastronomic delights.
It is a unique show that takes viewers on a culinary adventure throughout the country, showcasing our local food, and also how they can creatively use indigenous ingredients from a chef’s point of view. We felt that there was an unexploited opportunity to showcase Kenya, Kenyans and Kenyan food in a positive manner.
Turns out the show did not only grab local attention, but also courted international acclaim. I am now gearing up for season two, which will be broadcast by Fox International Channels (FIC). The second season is to be shot not only in Kenya, but also in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and hopefully Rwanda.
How does it feel to have an international broadcast channel airing your show?
It is humbling. About two months ago, FIC bought rights to broadcast our show everywhere (except North America) and obviously, it is an incredible feeling, given the hard work we put into the maiden season of the show. We feel proud that we were able to produce a world-class local production — the first in the country of this genre of television — and grab international attention. To me, this is not the end, but the beginning of yet another exciting journey.
Did you always want to be a chef?
My dalliance with food did not begin yesterday. As a child, I took a special interest in food. I come from a family that was keen on food. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a chef.
How would you describe your personal cooking style?
My cooking style reflects my background, and can be described as Afro-Mediterranean fusion, with a touch of the East to spice things up. I create dishes that I like to eat, using the best ingredients, prepared simply and perfectly executed. I love eating as much as I love cooking. The key is a generous portion presented simply and elegantly.
You do so many things; how do you balance it all?
I am extremely busy. I work seven days a week, 16 hours a day and it will get tougher with the filming of the second series of Tales from the bush larder.
However, I am glad that the wealth of experience moulded me into who I am today. One of the defining concepts behind the food at Seven Seafood & Grill is its reliance solely on local produce. Kenya has some of the most fantastic seafood, meat and vegetables in the world, and it is my mission to bring these to life for my customers.
What is the secret ingredient to your astounding success?
Nothing really. If you’re going to do anything in life — do it properly. Above all, work hard. I believe a chef should not be limited to the confines of a kitchen. From my experience, it is important to not just be in the kitchen, but also know how to balance the books. To run a successful restaurant, I think, requires you to understand the business in and out.
What’s your take on Kenya’s hospitality industry compared to abroad?
If South Africa is a benchmark, we are still quite far behind and really need to increase the levels of service, food quality and innovation as a whole.
What would you tell young people who have given up hope?
We just went through an election that was marked by the media as a disaster waiting to happen. We proved the world wrong. Anyone who has given up hope now really needs to be shaken till they wake up. Kenya is full of prospects. Just work hard, work honestly and continuously, and you will succeed!
What next for you?
Besides gearing up for the shooting of the second series, which will take the next three months, I opened our second restaurant Seven Lounge & Grill a world-class steak house at the Village Market two months ago.
I am also eager to continue with my efforts in sending a message to the world that Kenya is a great place to be, work and invest in.
We want to pass on the message that the average Kenyan is your regular hardworking person, and we have a lot to offer.