Food & Drinks

Meet top pastry chef at Nairobi Street Kitchen

chef

Susan Kamau, head pastry chef at Nairobi Street Kitchen . PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Nairobi Street Kitchen opened with lots of fanfare. Susan Kamau, 33, is the head pastry chef at the Street Kitchen. She spoke to BDLife on how she made it.

How did you fall in love with food?

(Laughs). Home science class does that to you. I knew I wanted to be a pastry chef when I was in high school.

Did you go to a culinary school?

I studied at Railway Training Institute, and International Air Transport Association, but most of my skills were developed when I went out of the country for training.

Which hotels have you worked in?

I did my internship at Carnivore and Rangers. Then I went to Iraq for six years where I worked in five-star hotels which led me to Sheraton- a Marriott property. I then got a transfer to Dubai where I developed more skills and got two awards in 2019: at Grosvenor House and Le Royal Meridian. I got another transfer to W Doha in Qatar which is where I worked before coming back home.

What is your earliest food memory?

An omelette I had when I was a child. That seems like ages ago! (Laughs).

What do you think the Kenyan restaurant industry can do to help empower more female chefs?

Truthfully, it should give women more room to activate their artistic selves. It should also aim to motivate and nurture women because it’s more or less deemed a ‘male-dominated’ industry.

Who do you look up to in the culinary industry?

Antonio Bachour, an American pastry chef. I consider him a god of pastries.

What must all great chefs have in their kitchens?

A good knife. Skills. Most importantly, patience.

What’s one thought you have about food that people don't know?

That Indian food is overrated. I don’t care much about it.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of coming into the industry as a young chef?

To be committed and resilient. One thing I’ve learnt over the years and I know for sure is that no one can ever take your skill away. Also, own your craft!

What are the biggest challenges facing female chefs today?

There’s the issue of ego in professional kitchens, which is not going to change any time soon. But also, we as women are our own biggest critics. We need to step up and stop underestimating ourselves. Life is a gamble.

For anyone who hasn't eaten in Nairobi Street Kitchen before, how would you sum up the dining experience?

Exceptional.

What's your favourite cuisine? Why?

Local cuisine. I’m all about home food!

What are your thoughts on the evolving food scene in Nairobi?

I love that people are becoming more open to trying out new foods. We’re at a far better place than we were a few years ago.

Food trends to watch out for?

Potato burger buns. They’re simply buns made of potato, flour, yeast, sugar, salt, butter, and eggs. The butter and eggs in this recipe are similar ingredients to what you find in an enriched dough recipe, like brioche. They add flavour and richness to the dough and help to make the buns soft.

What's one cooking technique that can't be learnt from YouTube?

Tempering chocolate, which is the process in which chocolate is slowly heated and then slowly cooled so that the fats crystallise uniformly and the chocolate ‘snaps’ rather than crumbles when broken. Tempered chocolate is often used to coat truffles to provide a smooth, polished finish.

Do you have any plans or projects coming up?

I want to teach upcoming pastry chefs to be at par with what society and other chefs are doing. The culinary training systems in Kenya are weak and I think head chefs should aim to make a change in the game. Maybe then will we stop hiring expatriates.