Kenyans’ low appetite for rare and medium rare steaks baffles chefs

Lamb leg at Brazilian Rodizio in Lavington, Nairobi, on March 28, 2024. 

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • About 70 percent of steakhouses' regular customers are Kenyans.
  • But, they don't want rare and medium rare steaks -- the specialities of the steakhouses.

I am sitting at a table in one of Nairobi's steakhouses. Not alone. The waiter asks for our orders.

Like many Kenyans who are used to “the charred the better, it is close to nyama choma” kind of meat, I am waiting anxiously for my rib-eye steak.

But when my beautiful, artsy plate is placed on the table, I get shocked. “Eeeeew,” I say, to the amusement of everyone.

The chef had recommended medium rare steak so that we get to experience the juiciness and flavourfulness of the meat.

The steak was served dripping with blood. Not really dripping, excuse my exaggeration, but it was a little bloody. 

I am exploring new foods and tastes so I decided to dig in. It was the most delicious meat I have eaten, so far.

Grilled pineapple at Brazilian Rodizio in Lavington Nairobi on March 28, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

But not all Kenyans want to step outside their nyama choma or boiled meat comfort zone.

Steakhouses managed by abroad-trained chefs are increasingly opening in Kenya, targeting the wealthy and aspirational rich. But what is baffling the chefs is why Kenyans have shunned rare and medium rare steaks, yet they represent 70 percent of regular customers at the steakhouses.

Bloody meat

Their average age? The diners, mostly in their 40s, believe that overcooked steak tastes better, yet they have never tried rare or medium rare.

Martin Walela, the steakhouse manager at Brazilian Rodizio, a steakhouse in Nairobi that offers ‘Rodizio’ service, which is an all-you-can-eat rotating service, says most Kenyans do not like anything "bloodish."

Brazilian Rodizio steakhouse manager Martin Walela during an interview on March 28, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group 

‘’Perhaps it is religion. If it is bloody they believe it’s not good for your consumption. Then we have those who prefer the meat to be crunchy, however, the maximum we can recommend is the medium well,’’ he says.

Chef Wayne Walkinshaw of the Chophouse at the Radisson Blu, Upper Hill, in Nairobi, says Kenyans have held the belief that overcooked steak tastes better.

‘’Kenyans like their meat very well done. But the best taste of the meat comes out when it's medium rare. You can still taste the meat unlike when you cook it well done which destroys it. I personally don’t like to cook the meat well done because it loses its originality,’’ he says.

‘’Even if you're used to having it well done, try and have it medium well then go for medium. If that's too nice, go for medium rare and if it's impossible, you can go back to medium because it's still good pink with no blood,’’ he adds.

Ageing cuts

Just like steakhouses around the world, Kenya now has different meats, some aged and cured to perfection to bring out more flavour. The quality of the cow, what it eats, how it is slaughtered, how the meat is aged, and how it is cooked are factors that steakhouses look at before they serve the steak.

Chef Wayne Walkinshaw

Chef Wayne Walkinshaw, Executive Chef, Radisson Blu Upperhill poses for a photo during an interview on March 20, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

‘’If you talk about steaks it starts with good quality beef. Sometimes if the animal was not slaughtered correctly, probably it was under stress that affects the meat quality,’’ Chef Wayne says.

At Chophouse, they have a meat refrigerator dry-ager. In it, pieces of meat have tags complete with a description of the date, month, and year they were hung in the fridge to age.

‘’We get our meat from Laikipia and others we import from South Africa. We age the meat in-house for 40 days,’’ he says.

The meat from South Africa is wet-aged and Chef Wayne says they age it for 30 days.

Dry ageing occurs in a controlled, open-air space, while wet ageing involves vacuum-sealing meat cuts and storing them in refrigeration between one and five degrees for several days.

Cuts with date tags in a meat refrigerator dry ager at Radisson Blu Hotel Nairobi on March 20, 2024. 

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

For dry-aged meat, it goes into the ager and the temperature and humidity are regulated for up to 40 days but some go to up to 60 days.

‘’With dry-aged meat, you lose about 50 percent of the weight. So, if you age 100 kilos of meat, you'll be left with 50 kilos because meat has a lot of water. The shrinkage is what makes aged meat expensive. The most expensive piece of steak ranges from Sh4,000 to Sh12,000,’’ Chef Wayne says.

Slow cooking

As a rule, the older the meat, the more expensive it will be.

‘’The dry-aged meat is very rich and buttery, the longer you age it, the stronger the flavour becomes. On the other hand, the wet age is very settled, and tender and is not as strong as the dry age," he adds.

So how is the good steak cooked?

"We cook our meat in the jasper oven which goes up to 300 degrees. We serve by weight and portion on our Himalayan salt block. The longer the meat sits on the salt block, the more salt it absorbs," the chef says.

Why would a chef then want to take such a good piece of meat and overcook it?

Slow cooking is part of the process that makes the meat juicy.

At Brazilian Rodizio, Mr Walela says they ‘’use the Churrasco machine, which cooks meat on a slow heat rotational and serves it in a rotational concept."

"We get the meat from Olpajeta ranch and Oldonyo Sabuk,’’ Mr Walela adds.

The steakhouse serves over 16 cuts of steak, not to mention ostrich, which is sourced from an ostrich farm in Kitengela, and crocodile meat, which they get from Mamba Village in Mombasa. A grilled pineapple with cinnamon is known to be a good digestive after the whole meat experience.

The steak experts agree that a good steak is just seasoned with salt, with no marination or infusion. An aged steak should come out with its original taste. It is then paired with good wine.

A steak on a Himalayan salt block served at Radisson Blu Hotel Nairobi on March  20, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Mr Walela recommends Argentina wines, ‘’Malbec is the wine of the house. It has full-bodied flavours and pairs well with grilled red meat,’’ he says, "a chocolate scoop is the best dessert to wash down on the finishing part of the red wine and steak."

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