Stephen Amiga was a chef on cruise ships for five years before he took a new direction.
Until two years ago, the 31-year-old was working in a Michelin-star chain of restaurants, brushing shoulders with the owner, French chef, Daniel Boulud.
For two years, he was serving travellers at the on-board restaurant in Celebrity Cruise, a ship that sails from Miami, Los Angeles, and across other cities of the world.
Mr Amiga served the role of Chef De Partie, ensuring that all soups, cold or hot, are prepared on time, all the meats are prepared and in good temperature, all sauces are well textured and full of flavour.
“At the time, only our ship had such service with a Michelin-star chef menu. I was among the lucky ones to be working under Chef Boulud. He is a great teacher and one understands why he attains such standards,” he says.
Working under the celebrated chef helped Mr Amiga, a former student of Top Chef Culinary Institute in Parklands, Nairobi, understand the need for going the extra mile in dining especially for his business. “Working in a fine dining restaurant, means you never compromise on service or quality. We only cooked the best and served the best. That is one thing I have carried wherever I go, never settle for less especially when it comes to dining.”
He started working in the cruise ships in 2015 but returned home after they stopped renewing contracts when the first cases of coronavirus were reported.
In the years he has cooked and served in cruise ships, he has worked in most of the departments in the Galley- the kitchen on a ship, Sauce section (Be it Saucier), pantry section (Garde manger), a roast section among others.
The pandemic however pushed him to start his business, Amigable, serving as a private chef. Private cooking involves making special dinners for two, or family meals, or weekly planned meals for those with busy lifestyles.
Saffron spice from Mexico, is an ingredient that Mr Amiga keeps close to his chest. The spice is used in many dishes from rice, soups, bread, teas, and even children’s milk.
The spice could on average cost Sh700 per gramme at local supermarkets, even though it is required in pinches. He bought his current stock in Mexico before the pandemic hit. It has a subtle yet long-lasting aroma, a vibrant colour to stand out, and has powerful antioxidant and stress-relieving properties, helps in digestion and weight loss.
It has formed a big part of his flavours while doing cooking “housecalls” or private tutoring for groups and individuals.
For this service, he charges a minimum of Sh6,000 per session. “People who have eaten dishes made with saffron are shocked at how good it turns out because they downplay it and mostly use it for one dish - the famous Biryani. Add it in bread or chapati or in tea,” he adds.
Mr Amiga also consults for new hotels and restaurants or those looking to do facelifts or train staff.
“It has taken me about seven years to reach where I am right now having gained experience both locally and internationally through interacting with various cultures both on land and cruise ships,” he says.
He also prepares cuisines including African, Continental, and sometimes Asian, with the help of a team of hired professional cooks.
“What pushes me is the appreciation of good food not only by sight but taste.”
Even though his business is holding up, Mr Amiga, who also has a passion for travelling , hopes to return to the sea.
“I wouldn’t mind returning but until this pandemic is managed. However, now that my business is picking up, I may stay here and grow it, maybe even own a restaurant on the ship as well, who knows?” he adds.
STEPHEN AMIGA’s Recipes
Saffron Brioche Bread (Tangzhong/roux Method)
Yield : 3 Medium Loaves
Tangzhong/roux is a Japanese-derived method of baking where a slurry of flour and water is prepared under low heat whilst stirring to avoid lumps and then added later on to the dough.
This makes the bread/bun feel softer, fluffier, and creamier.
For the Tangzhong/roux
• 36g bread flour
• 120ml whole milk
• 50ml water
For the dough
• 360g whole milk (lukewarm)
• 18g active dry yeast
• 60g sugar
• 1g saffron
• 830g bread flour
• 20g salt
• 2 large kienyeji whole eggs
• 2 kienyeji egg yolks
• 86g unsalted butter
• 3 kienyeji whole eggs
• 30g water
• 10g white sesame seeds
• 10g Black sesame seeds
• 86g unsalted butter
Let’s do the Tangzhong/roux
1. Combine all of the tangzhong/roux ingredients in a pan under low heat, whisking until no lumps remain and a thick smooth consistency is attained.
2. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature for later incorporation into the dough.
Let’s do the Dough!
1. In a medium bowl, combine the lukewarm milk, saffron, yeast and sugar. Cover with a towel and let it stand for 5 min until bubbly.
2. Sift the flour in a bowl and add your salt and make a well at the centre.
3. Add the yeast mixture little by little to the flour and mix until all the yeast mix is finished.
4. Add the tangzhong/roux, followed by the egg and egg yolk.
5. While still kneading and add the butter, one tablespoon at a time avoid overpouring all at once until fully incorporated.
6. Once all the butter is incorporated, remove from the bowl and place it on a firm countertop and firmly knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
7. Divide the dough into two balls and place it in a greased bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and place it in a warm spot i.e. oven, turned off for one hour, or until doubled in size.
8. Gently knockdown /punch the dough then using a knife or scraper, portion the dough into six equal pieces. Form the dough into rope shapes of equal length and make braids and place them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, ensuring they have space to double in size. Cover with the towel and let it rise again.
9. Preheat oven to 185 degrees C for at least 15 minutes.
10. Brush the bread with egg wash and add your toppings then bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
11. Remove the bread from the oven brushing them immediately with the melted butter.
12. Allow them to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before transferring them to a rack to cool completely before storage.
• 500g cubed fresh liver (skinned)
• 100g peeled and sliced onions
• 300g peeled and cut in small diced tomatoes
• 20g peeled and crushed garlic
• 5g peeled and crushed ginger
• 3g ground paprika
• 50g fresh and chopped cilantro
• 2pc lemon, zested and squeezed
• 50ml honey
• 5g salt
• 1g Black pepper
• 50g butter/ olive oil
1. In a hot pan, drizzle your olive oil and sauté your onions until caramelized, add your garlic, ginger, and paprika and cook until translucent.
2. Under high heat add your liver and toss it until most moisture has evaporated then pour in the lemon juice and stir for 2 minutes.
3. Toss in the tomatoes and let them stew, boiling until reduced and thick inconsistency.
4. Drizzle in your honey, adding salt and pepper to taste.
5. Finally stir in your lemon zest then let simmer for another 5 minutes.
6. Serve topped with fresh cilantro.