Two weeks ago we were at the Acacia Hotel for #TheAcaciaEscape. One of the interesting people we met was the chef – Chef Robert. I had to find out what more about him.
How long have you been a chef?
I have been a chef for 26 years.
How did you start?
I started in 1986 where I trained at Utalii College as a waiter for one year and then worked at Serena group of Hotels in Amboseli for one year.
Where did you train?
In 1988 I went back to Utalii college to train as a chef for two years. I then rejoined Nairobi Serena Hotel from 1990 to 2002 and rose to the level of Executive Sous Chef. I also trained in Germany in Baden-Baden City, Tokyo Japan, Egypt Ramses Hilton and Zimbabwe Holiday Inn (Monomotapa).
What other hotels have you worked in apart from Acacia?
I worked at the Nairobi Serena Hotel 12 years, Ole Sereni Hotel, Sopa Lodges Naivasha, Japan Tokyo 6 years, Scotland in Ramada Jarvis group of Hotels and Zanzibari Inn group of Hotels.
Was becoming a chef your dream or it is something that you ended up falling into what would you have become if you were not a chef?
It was my dream to become a chef after I interacted with Chef Casper Ogesa and watched his amazing buffet presentations. I also enjoyed watching British Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay in Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef.
What inspired you to become a chef?
My uncle had a hotel at the shores of Lake Victoria. I used to help out during my school holiday, the hotel had a very good head chef by the name Mr. Osuga whom I admired and thereafter I developed the passion for culinary arts.
Who are the most memorable guests you have prepared meals for here at Acacia?
The US Ambassador to Kenya, the Indian Ambassador to Kenya, Chief Justice of Kenya Mr. Mutunga and Mr. Maraga, actress Lupita Nyongo, Victoria Beckham, Former Prime Minister of Kenya, and Raila Odinga.
How do you stay on top of culinary trends?
By reading culinary books, following F&B pages on social media, exchanging ideas with other chefs and by visiting other big other hotels to check out their food presentation.
How do you ensure safety of your food and the kitchen in general so that there are no complaints of food poisoning etc?
I am always training my staff on HACCP. I make sure to keep raw food separate from cooked food, keep cooked food at a safe temperature, refrigerate or freeze perishable food promptly-within two hour of purchasing and defrost food safely. Clean as you go.
What is the most exotic food you ever made?
Kamongo (mad fish), Kumbe kumbe (white ants) and Octopus.
What’s the most exotic food you have ever eaten?
What’s your favourite meal to prepare for yourself and family and why?
Whole roast Goat, Chapati, Ugali and Kachumbari, because it’s delicious and hearty food.
Kenyan food vs other international food. How does it compare?
Kenyan food is fresh, healthy, and affordable.
Do you think we need to reinvent our food culture? Have more creative dishes?
I do not think there is a need to reinvent, however I think Kenyan’s need to open up their palates and try new cuisines. Cuisines such as Mexican, Chinese and Arabic use very similar ingredients to the Kenyan Cuisine, the only thing that differs is the flavor profile.
Do you get a good percentage of required ingredients locally or do you have to import?
We get 70% locally and 30% has to be imported. Foods such as Parmesan cheese, Lobster, Salmon and Shell fish have to be imported.
What’s your favourite Kenyan food.
Ugali and Nyama Choma, Mangu (traditional vegetables) and Lake Victoria fried Tilapia.
What do you do to relax?
I go to the gym, watch football, read culinary books and watch world celebrity chef Mr. Ramsay’s cooking show.
What do you personally look out for when you eat out in other restaurants?
Taste of food, presentation, portioning and color combination.
What in your opinion are the 5 must have ingredients in any kitchen?
Olive oil, salt, garlic, lemon and stock.
What challenges do Kenyan chefs face in this industry?
Product consistency and staffing. Consistency is the key to success with any big hotel, as guests demand the same experience regardless of the location. This is difficult when locations may be in different county or cities as supply chains and product availability are not always as consistent as the specs.
Retaining staff is also very challenging in the hospitality industry.
What are the opportunities?
We are advantaged to have many universities and colleges around Kenya with a lot of raw talent that can be molded into young and enthusiastic professionals. Additionally, we have many hotels being set up around Kenya, both home-made and international brands, therefore there are a lot of opportunities for jobs within this industry. Nairobi is becoming a hub for many international brands to start their expansion into the East African region.