Chef’s TV show instant hit with global audience

Left: Seven Seafood & Grill’s executive chef Kiran Jethwa in one of his TV shows shot in Embu. Right: Kiran in his kitchen. Photo/Courtesy
Left: Seven Seafood & Grill’s executive chef Kiran Jethwa in one of his TV shows shot in Embu. Right: Kiran in his kitchen. Photo/Courtesy 

When Chef Kiran Jethwa did the first pilot for his TV show Tales from the Bush Larder, three years ago, his goal was “to create a culinary experience of Kenya,” he says.

Armed with a 13-minutes pilot he knocked on many doors but was turned down, every couple of months he took out the tape and tried again. Last year, Zuku TV, a local pay television network by Wananchi Group, picked up the show. Today, it has grown beyond Kiran’s imagination with plans for the second season underway.

Its success saw the show picked up by Fox International Channel and will distribute it internationally. Bush Larder was officially screened in London on January 13 to officially launch it to the international market. Wananchi still holds the distribution rights in Africa.

“We don’t have elaborate cuisine as a country but the quality of food is very good. This is an opportunity to show Kenya in a different perspective, away from the negative news, show the positive of the country and the spirit of the people,” he says. “The reach potential is huge. I want to put Kenya on the map in terms of food.”

A third generation Kenyan, Kiran is already in talks with Fox to do other shows, all around the culinary experience in East Africa.

“The secondary objective is to demonstrate the fresh and lively business climate in East Africa and its attractions as a destination,” says Zuku’s head of programming, Hannelie Bekker. Adding the premier in the UK helps promote Kenya, and East Africa as a whole, as a culinary tourism destination at a time Kenya is striving to diversify its portfolio.

His tenacity to get the show aired is something he carries in almost everything he does. It’s this drive that saw Kiran, then working as a radio DJ, shortlisted four years ago among 50 people of more than 30,000, and the only African, for ‘Best job in the world’. It was a competition to select a manager for a dream island off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

It’s around this time he got the idea to do the show. Combining his love for the outdoors, adventure and cooking he shot the pilot with the help of his childhood friend Daniel Prior and his team of Quite Bright Films (QBF), co-producers of the show. This was the birth of the show that has seen Kiran crisscross the country in search of local ingredients and spices.

“We came together with Kiran, did a low budget pilot and everyone didn’t want it in the beginning. When Zuku commissioned it we invested in it to make a high quality show. This has helped get the international distribution,” Prior told the Business Daily at QBF offices.

An extrovert who speaks Kiswahili, Kiran interacts with the local communities, learns about the local food, how it’s harvested and cooked before infusing different locally available ingredients to prepare a meal for his invited guests with a dash of international flair.

In one episode he travels to Naivasha and joins two local fishermen in their blue canoe to go fish for crayfish in the lake. Kiran always the attentive student learns how they fish for the cretins before going to visit Rift Valley Winery, Kenya’s biggest winery and producers of Leleshwa wines, to source a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to cook his crayfish.

Using simple aluminium cooking pots (sufurias) and a two burner portable gas cooker he prepares a meal for the fishermen and a representative of the winery before he moves to his kitchen, at Seven Seafood restaurant, to create an elaborate dish with the same ingredients.

Articulate and entertaining, and willing to get dirty, Kiran is a joy to watch and makes cooking look easy. When asked if he is Kenya’s Jamie Oliver, the renowned British Chef with a TV show, he says that’s OK, though he sees himself more like Chef Ramsay, an internationally renowned TV chef and restaurateur.

Despite being his own boss he works for between 12 and 16 hours a day. When he is not on the road he is working at his restaurant Seven Seafood & Grill, at ABC Place in Nairobi, which he established with his partner Nawaaz Meghji, 37 in December 2011.

They opened a branch in Village Market on March 2. His hard work saw him recognised during this year’s Taste Awards, which fetes the best in the restaurant and bar industry.

Kiran was born in Kenya and attended Hillcrest schools in Nairobi, before he moved to the UK to pursue hospitality management.

A keen rugby player, who has represented Kenya as an inside centre and plays with Nondies club. He worked as a radio DJ among other jobs before investing in the restaurant.

For now, the married chef has taken up golf, which he finds intriguing. He has a handicap of 18, he plans to get it to under 10, if he can get to the course more often. He plans to write books, produce DVDs and new TV shows to highlight Kenya’s cuisine.

“I don’t stop generally,” he says.