Sarah Kelz Akello is a chef consultant who recently published her cookbook Always Extra For Love. She shares her love for culinary art, with BDLife.
How did you become a chef?
I trained at International Centre for Culinary Arts in Dubai. I then worked in the UAE and Indonesia until March this year. After seven years abroad, I decided to come back to see what I can build for myself here, as well as how I can impact the culinary industry.
I am currently working as a chef consultant where I help lodges, restaurants and kitchens develop menus, staff training, inventory control and basic kitchen finance and management.
What foods have you focused on in your cookbook?
Simple dishes that one can prepare for a Sunday lunch or brunch with family and friends. Honestly, what you see in the book is pretty much the layout for Sunday lunch at my home, minus the desserts.
I wanted a cookbook with ingredients that are easily found in a local market.
The best part of the book though is the kitchen hacks. They are insights into the workings of a kitchen, the simple things we do as chefs in high-end restaurants in preparation for great food. We can all be chefs. (Laughs).
What was the inspiration behind writing a cookbook?
Love for food; love for cooking; love for my job; love for how far I have come; love for eating; love for sharing …
Sitting by a beach in Bali and looking at families on vacation as they came for dinner, I dreamed of how nice it would be for people to have picnics with loved ones.
When I watch how food impacts people on a daily basis, I want everyone to have that experience in their own homes.
When did you realise you want to cook as a career?
I can’t quite remember, but I have always been in the kitchen since I was a little girl. I always wanted to make particular dishes because I believed no one else could do it better than I. I have the same feeling these days, but I am polite enough to let one cook, then I fix the food before they serve. (Laughs).
Which restaurants have you worked in?
I started out in Roberto’s Restaurant, an Italian fine dining restaurant in Dubai. I have also worked at Market Kitchen by Michelin star chef Jean Gorge in Abu Dhabi, Maison Mathis in Dubai Arabian Ranches and One & Only Royal Mirage and Melia in Bali.
How do you develop a recipe?
I start by choosing a star ingredient then build a dish around it. I will have different ideas of what I know pairs well, and it becomes trial and error from there. I’ll substitute ingredients in already established dishes and see how that works. I also research on new trends and what renowned chefs are trying out.
Sometimes I go back to the basics. The best foods are always made from the simplest ingredients.
I imagine the taste of good food. I only know a dish’s perfection when I taste it. From there, I have people taste it, get their opinions and go ahead to perfect the recipe. Recipe development is fun but it takes time sometimes.
What’s your favourite cuisine?
African. But I love to cook Italian and to eat Japanese.
What’s the one Italian dish you love cooking and Japanese dish you love eating?
I love cooking Italian pasta. A good homemade pasta dish will make you fall in love with the process.
For Japanese food, I love sushi, but sukiyaki more. It is a one pot dish with vegetables and meat with the best part being the sweet soy. I have been working on a sauce I would like to eventually introduce in the market that is inspired by that. My pork dish in the book is also inspired by that. The Japanese really are God’s gift to the culinary world.
Favourite recipe on the book?
The crispy ginger pork belly.
What’s one ingredient you always have to have?
Garlic and lemons.
Top 10 favourite cookbooks?
“Always Extra for Love”— my book (Laughs).
“Bucose In Your Kitchen”, “When Suzanne Cooks”, “Home Cooking with Jean-Gorges”, “Cravings: Hungry For More”, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “The Flavor Bible”, “White Heat” and“All About Cake: A Milk Bar Cookbook.”
Which restaurants do you think are top in Nairobi?
Fogo Gaucho, Mediterrano, Nyama Mama, Artcaffe and Charlie’s Bistro.
If you could eat only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Pork for breakfast, lunch or dinner?
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Three in one. (Laughs).
What dishes have you eaten and you still think about them and you would even travel to buy?
I had a pork belly with ginger broth dish in a Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong. I would travel to eat it again and again. (Laughs).
Barbecue pork and crispy pork belly in China Town, Singapore was a win for me too. I have to eat street food each time I visit Singapore.
If you were to own a restaurant, how would it look like and what would it serve?
I’d definitely go for an Asian fusion restaurant. I love Asian food and the flavour profiles. Japanese in particular, but Balinese as well.
I have worked in fine dining restaurants and in my wildest dreams I would love to own that, but I know we are still a long way away from making Sh20,000 meal a regular thing in Kenya.
I’d go for a semi-fine dining restaurant of 20 seaters at most, only open for dinner and with two seatings — 7pm to 9pm and 9pm to 11pm. It would have chef tasting seasonal menus, seven-course meal, an interactive open-kitchen, a sommelier to pair the wines, a good DJ on the deck so it’s a good vibe, nice lighting and beautiful decor.
I would also have a different and very casual restaurant bistro that would finance the fine-dining restaurant. All the chefs I’ve worked with, even those who own Michelin star restaurants, said they don’t make as much money as the casual restaurants. In fact, your best bet is a takeaway. (Laughs).