Bringing menu ideas to life is as exciting as it is frustrating, but when it comes together, it is a thing of wonder.
Kimani Kiarie, or Chef Kim as he prefers to be called Chef Kim, says the rush of having an idea move from print and then to the tables of paying customers is worth the sweat.
For him, it's also a process, since there is as much art as there is science involved in planning great dishes.
Chef Kim runs the Five Senses Restaurant, a family-owned establishment he manages with his mother whom he owes his love of cooking.
“My mother used to bake a lot when I was a child and I would help her. The process intrigued me and by Form two I knew I wanted to become a chef,” he says with pride.
The 33-year-old who studied at Top Chefs Culinary Institute of Nairobi before enrolling for a Bachelor’s degree in culinary arts at the Caesar Ritz Colleges of Switzerland in 2011 says that there is something about French cuisine.
For him, food is more than a way of life: it is also a way of self-expression.
The chef is getting ready to launch his new menu inspired by local cuisine and during a pilot test last week, he took select guests through what he called a Kenyan-infused menu.
And infused it was because rarely does one see tripe and liver in high-end restaurant menus. But they are common servings in low-end eateries and restaurants across the country.
“Most of the dishes remind me of my childhood and that is why I want to take Kenyans on a journey with what they know but in a different style,” he says.
He adds, “We decided to make an elevated version of local food with some influence from international cuisine.”
Chef Kim puts a twist on several other local dishes such as chemsha, where he takes braised lamb leg and adds clarified lamb soup, buttered potato, roasted Brussel sprouts, and a crouton.
He has gone a step further in the recipe innovation to make his signature pulled camel roll which is cooked in lamb fat then rolled in caul fat, potato, fried popcorn, and then served with a side salad.
According to him, the fear of eating something new that may cause a stomach upset or buyer’s remorse prompts some Kenyans to revert to tried and tested food choices on the menu when they choose to eat out.
The biggest challenge when he was experimenting was how to make the ingredients blend for a tasty meal. It is very hard, he says, to find chefs and culinary experts in Kenya experimenting with new, interesting recipes since they prefer to play it safe.
He gives the example of how chefs in different countries continue introducing new recipes to common dishes like pasta and pizza for their customers, something that is not often done in Kenya.
The foodie hopes to put Kenya’s cuisine on the global map with his creations that can be internationally recognised.
“What we are creating is a new experience for foreigners and memories for Kenyans who have eaten some of these foods regularly,” says the chef.
A key difference he sees between French and Kenyan attitudes towards food is that Europeans are more driven by seasonal ingredients and regional dishes.
“In France, they like fresh food and are conscious of what they are eating, where food comes from, from which farmer or fisherman,” observes Kim.
But, he adds, Kenyans are also becoming more aware of food origins and asking questions at the restaurant.
“A phrase I generally live by is ‘why fit in when you can stand out.' I used to not believe in myself, even when I was in culinary school. I loved what I was doing but I never put myself out there. While I was in Paris though, being mentored by my chef helped me realise I had a lot of potentials. Knowing this has kept me going to this day!”
The menu which took Kim a year to create will launch on November 18 at Five Senses Restaurant in Nairobi.