Dishing up flowers in fine dining

Flowers on a table at Fairmont the Norfolk. PHOTO | COURTESY
Flowers on a table at Fairmont the Norfolk. PHOTO | COURTESY 

There is a growing interest in edible flowers, especially in Nairobi’s fine dining restaurants.

Order medium-rare crusted tuna and it may come with a purple borage flower on top and coconut shreds. Don’t shove the colourful petals aside, they are edible decorations that chefs are adding in dishes for a powerful and unique flavour.

Wissem Abdellatif, an executive chef at Radisson Blu in Nairobi, says the brilliant colours and shapes play a major role in the culinary world to garnish different cuisines.

To most diners, some of the flowers can be bitter, especially if served as unopened buds. But they have nutritional value; they are excellent antioxidants and act as mood elevators although most hotels use them to elevate the dining experience.

Some are also rich in Vitamin C and A and a good source of calcium. But edible flowers should be eaten in large amounts, the chef said.

Of all the varieties, Chef Abdellatif who has worked in Tunisia, Mauritius, Italy, France, Dubai and Russia says he prefers borage, marigold, nasturtium and bergamot.

They are more colourful and light, which makes the dishes stand out really well. He prefers giving food an exotic touch and even infuses dried tea granules in meats.

Runda farms

But not all flowers are perfect as food. Some of the most common ones used in restaurants or by daring home cooks include marigold, bergamot, cauliflower shoots, arugula, chervil, dandelion, passion flower and lavender.

Because the flowers must be served unblemished, Radisson Blu sources them from Mlango Farm in Limuru which was founded by a couple named Kamande Njenga and Els Breet who do not use artificial fertilisers and synthetic pesticides.

Chef Abdellatif says the hotel, which recently upgraded its Chophouse to a fine dining restaurant, sometimes adds flowers in beverages as flavourings, in teas and wine and on butter or marmalade.

‘‘Flowers can be drunk but don’t put too many and ensure you mix them with a primary ingredient,’’ says the chef who studied culinary art in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Court women

Eating flowers began years ago among the wealthy in Britain. Men, for instance, served a borage-flavoured dish to woo women. Borage, they say, makes a man merry and gives him courage to entice a woman.

Paul Kimani, an executive sous chef at Fairmont the Norfolk, says besides borage, you can also eat lilac, some rose varieties, hibiscus and sunflower petals.

‘‘Edible flowers have a vast usage in any kitchen and one cannot limit
themselves. You can add it to pasta, in soup or salads. In drinks, the perfect one is hibiscus,’’ he said, adding that the hotel sources the edible flowers from farms in Limuru and Runda estate.

The executive sous chef loves using lavender because of its health benefits.

‘‘It is best taken as tea before one goes to bed, it is the answer to insomnia and widely used in pastry,’’ chef Kimani said.

For Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, they grow their own edible flowers in an organic garden at the hotel. Nicholas Mwangi, the hotel’s executive sous chef, says he mostly uses nasturtium.

‘‘These flowers have a peppery taste which enriches food,’’ he says, adding that if you want to drink the flowers, steep them in tea to enjoy the nutritional value.

Nasturtiums are known to be natural antibiotics and a good source of Vitamin C, lavender is an antioxidant and helps in detoxifying the body. It is a good relaxing agent too when steeped. Hibiscus is also a traditional remedy for blood pressure and a good antioxidant. It is also a great source of Vitamin C and iron.

‘‘A flower is now an added value in fine dining set-ups,’’ says the executive sous chef.