Evans Bitinyu is a rarity. The chef has worked in the bush for 16 years and says he would whip delicacies with the roars of wild animals in the background until he retires, if ever.
His food tastes and is plated like what you would find in a fine dining restaurant in the city, but served in the middle of the wilderness.
So how did he grow his career in the bush? “You must love food and nature. The noises of hyenas excite me. They are calming. I have never gotten bored of the quietness of the wild. You have to love co-existing with tempestuous elephants,” says the 50-year-old.
His love for cooking started in his 20s. Fresh from high school, without formal training, he went to the Coast to look for a job. He joined Hemingways Watamu as a trainee cook for two years then left to do private cooking. After nine years of cooking at the Coast, he moved to Nairobi as a private chef.
“Then I met some of my clients who encouraged me to go work in the bush,” he says.
In 2005, when Ol Seki was opened, he was the chef welcoming guests. Then the post-election violence hit and the owners sold the hotel. The new owner came in and also sold the hotel after two years.
“Then Hemingways bought it and I found myself at Hemingways again,” he says.
In the 16 years that he has worked in the wilderness, he says the best meal to cook is anything curry.
“All I need to make a sumptuous curry is chicken, beef, or mutton, curry paste, a special garam masala, and chillies,” he says.
“But I can make any meal. I remember a South African couple who just wanted to eat Bobotie, not once, but every day. It is one of the oldest recipes in South African made of lamb. I made for them because all I needed was minced meat, bread, eggs, and spices,” he says.
To chef Evans there is no much difference between being a top chef in the city and the bush. You just need to know your customers.
To avoid the challenges of missing ingredients in the bush, Ol Seki Hemingways gets its supplies from Nairobi before guests check-in. “But in the kitchen, I never lack soy sauce, garlic, salt, onions and pepper, because these add flavour to the meals I make,” he says.
Over the 29 years of being a chef, he has seen a shift in the meals that Kenyans order.
“Nowadays, they are open to trying out new Continental dishes unlike before. They also like more salads than ugali and nyama choma,” he says, adding that he has also witnessed an increase in number of guests who order Kosher and halal dishes.
Cooking for bush dinners is his most thrilling experience.
“There was a time when I was cooking and a lion was roaring nearby. It was interesting but also scary. We had to pack our stuff and leave. We were in its territory. It is such experiences that make working in the bush worthwhile,” he says.