By Kiundu Waweru
Kenyans whisper, a bit too loudly, that the country lacks a variety of cuisine. But having watched the first culinary TV series produced in Kenya, none other than a permanent secretary declared that we get it wrong.
The show, Tales from the Bush Larder, premiered the other day, screened to an appreciative audience in an exclusive restaurant, lights dimmed, and finger licking dinner being served.
In the highly cinematographic, HD shot show, the host Kiran Jethwa, an internationally trained Kenyan chef, traces the biggest albeit unexploited supply of food, the bush. In the premier show at Kiran’s restaurant, Seven Sea Food and Grill at ABC Place the diners were taken to a culinary, saliva inducing, unbelievable journey.
In Machakos, Kiran hooks up with a mzee, a beekeeper. With his deep, made for TV voice, Kiran narrates every step, engaging the wazees in Kiswahili. They candidly approach the beehives for a harvesting session. Wearing protective clothing, all goes well, until a hive comes tumbling down. The audience gasp. But all is well. This being a food program, at this point the viewers are wondering what the honey is for. Well, an excited Kiran on screen, apart from licking the delicious slick liquid is not letting the cat out of the bag.
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The suspense is palatable when the mzee gives Kiran muratina, a fruit that when dried and mixed with sugar and or sugarcane, honey and left to ferment makes an alcoholic drink. The drink is popular in Central Province as muratina and in Eastern Province as karubu.
And you know what; Kiran and mzee brew the muratina which they use for an age-old trick. They place bowls of muratina in the bush which guinea fowl stealthily approach, lick and before long start shuffling, drunk. Like magicians Kiran and the mzee have trapped the guinea fowls, which they ‘pick’ easily. Muratina maketh a drunken Guinea Fowl a lame duck!
Well, the honey, the muratina, was all about nabbing the guinea fowl. It’s humorous, creative and then mouth watering as Kiran prepares the dish of fowl at the yard of the mzee’s compound as the locals watch, mesmerised.
And this is the basic of the show, which is showing on the Zuku Africa Thursdays at 8.30pm. The first show, out of 13 Season One episodes went on air last week.
At the premier, Kiran termed the show as a journey of culinary discovery. In every episode, he goes to a different location. He has been to Lake Victoria where he harvests and prepares live omena(small fish). Fishes trout in Mt Kenya and harvests rice in Mwea. Everywhere he goes, he finds locals who take him through the journey of getting the ingredients.
It’s the breadth of the ingredients that inspire PS Bitange Ndemo, Ministry of Information and Communication to say that we get it wrong on food in Kenya. “From this premier of Tales from the Bush Larder,” said the PS, “Kenyans say that we do not have food, but someone has created food from the bush.” He added that a reliance on corn meal is not only expensive but also unhealthy. The PS also noted that Kiran brings out science in the art of food preparation, “
In Africa, we waste big percentage of food in preparation as we don’t weigh the ingredients.”
Indeed, Kiran the head chef at Seven Sea Food and Grill who has previously worked in South Africa, US and Europe prepares the food professionally, both in the bush and at the restaurant.
Terming it a fantastic show, the Wananchi Group CEO, Richard Bell said that Zuku, which commissioned the cookery programme, is striving to promote local content.
And speaking about local content, the show was hailed by Foodies (enthusiasts of good food) as a promotion of Kenyan fledgling culinary tourism.
The show is an ideal platform for promoting culinary tourism in the country,” said Hannelie Bekker, Head of Zuku Programming.
Culinary, or food tourism is experiencing food and dining of a country or region and is considered a vital component of the tourism package.
According to Nev Mansoor Jiwani, Group Managing Director, Chef’s Delight Awards, a recently launched initiative geared to promote culinary tourism; food is believed to rank alongside climate, accommodation and scenery in terms of importance to a traveller.
Besides culinary tourism promoting the Kenyan culture, Nev believes that it can earn Kenya “top dollar” by complimenting on the already popular wildlife and scenery tourism.
“Ask yourself, how many international tourists dine out while visiting our country?” Nev adds that if the country celebrates its diversity and maintain quality standards and showcase this to tourists, then culinary tourism would be a top earner.
However, according to Kiran, Kenya lags behind when it comes to culinary tourism when compared to say South Africa or Ethiopia, which has a defined cuisine.
“But Kenya has great ingredients which I use at my restaurant. It’s this rich diversity that we are showcasing to promote our food.”
The Minister for Tourism, Danson Mwazo, agrees that tourists can derive pleasure from the exotic culinary offerings as a means of experiencing different cultures. “For this reason, there is need for us to have excellent dining standards that will in due course be a notable attraction to tourists.”