What inspired you to become a chef?
My grandfather as well as my parents were all chefs. My father was among the first African chefs to train at Utalii College. However, my parents were against my choice of career.
When I was growing up, I would also help our neighbour, a pastry chef, with intricate cake decorations.
My father enrolled at Park Place Training College, hoping I would get discouraged by the hardships of working in the kitchen, but I was top of the class.
Who are your role models?
- 1 Gicheru: Firm CJ who entrenched integrity, judicial independence
- 2 Kibaki is not in hospital, says his aide
- 3 Opinion: Out with the old, in with the old
- 4 Doctors give Kibaki clean bill of health
Eamon Mullan, a culinary director at Fairview Hotel, left a mark on my life and career and helped me find my calling. I was an apprentice chef under him at the Norfolk Hotel for five years, then at Fairview for another two years.
Which meal do you dread making, and which is your favourite?
Soufflé is a simple but a tricky dish to make. The recipe is unforgiving because the dish rises using the air in the egg whites. If you grease the mould the wrong way, bang the oven door or remove the soufflé from the oven too early, it will sink.
On the other hand, I enjoy preparing seafood, especially fresh prawns flavoured with lemon and dill. Name a spice you cannot survive without.
I enjoy the flavour of black pepper; it complements beef, chicken and cheese. I prefer to grind it in a pepper mill for the best effect.
How does your family handle your long working hours?
I met my wife, Anne Wangui Wanjau, when I was starting my career, so she understands my schedule. I am away on special days such as Christmas, so I take time off during the off-peak season to be with my wife and our eight-month-old daughter, Shani.
How has international experience developed your career?
I have travelled countries such as United Arab Emirates, Mozambique, South Africa and Rwanda. This has exposed me to different cultures. You may think you are the greatest when you are in Kenya, but when you travel elsewhere, you find chefs with better skills.
I have also made some shocking exotic food, such as the Filipino delicacy, Balut. This is a fertilised duck egg that is boiled just before it hatches.
Black truffles were also strange to me. They look like a rocky mushrooms but have a soft texture. Truffles are highly prized and the cost, per gramme, of some of these delicacies is higher than that of gold.
Which famous people have you had the privilege of serving?
I have served former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and business magnate Richard Branson, amongst others. I even have signed plates from them. Most recently, I served former President Mwai Kibaki during the farewell function organised by the Kenya Defence Forces.
Why is your jacket so decorated?
I am a competition junkie and have won over 18 medals, including gold in the 2009 Dubai Southern Culinaire’s beef practical. At the same event, I won silver in the fish category and bronze in the static display.
This jacket bears the logos of the corporates who sponsored me as the Kenyan representative in the 2011 World Chefs Tour for Hunger in South Africa. Some 200 chefs from 46 countries converged to raise eight million rand to feed destitute South African children.
What is a chef’s worst nightmare?
Food poisoning is a chef’s biggest nightmare. No matter how experienced a chef is, they have to be extremely careful on food safety. The Intercontinental Hotel is HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point Systems) certified. This is a systematic preventive approach to identify, evaluate and control food safety hazards during all stages of food preparation.
What does it take to be the best at what you do?
Believe in God and yourself, be competitive, have realistic goals and stand out from the crowd.