Clad in the toque blanche, white double-breasted jacket and black pants without the hound’s-tooth-pattern his Western counterparts fancy, Crowne Plaza executive chef Cosmas Kituku stands at slightly over six feet tall.
We sit at the handsome Sikia Restaurant.
Cosmas, who has cooked for His Highness the Aga Khan, the Queen of England, the late Nelson Mandela, China’s President Xi Jinping, says he always wanted to become a chef. But his career was not smooth sailing.
His father, a marine engineer who had hopes of sending Cosmas to engineering school told him that being a chef is a woman’s job. This was followed with a slap to send the message home.
It took the intervention of his elder sister who wrote to the college, getting engineering registration forms to prove that Cosmas was going to the UK for a science course. Then he went to the Hammersmith College in London where he studied food production for four years.
“I grew up in Mombasa. My mum used to sell woven bags in the 80s to tourists in hotels. I’d accompany her to collect the money from hotels such as Serena Beach Resort and the first person I would see is a chef. I would stare at the hat and that is how I started nurturing the thought,” says the chef who has 27 years under his belt.
Use of Coconut
He has worked for Serena Hotels across their properties in Mombasa, Zanzibar and Mozambique for 17 years, where the common ingredients included sea food, coconut and spices.
This is where Cosmas says his creativity with food began, loving the use of coconut and spices such as garam masala.
The executive chef, who was had a stint in Scotland and Germany, is working on a book that includes recipes and edible flowers.
Cosmas says he writes from travels across the continent including Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria.
“I have seen a lot of countries that have a lot of Western influence, but Uganda doesn’t have that,’’ he says adding that after travelling through Africa for the last 17 years, the only country that does not have a food culture is Kenya.
“We’ve completely destroyed our culture. We’ve become westernised completely,” he says.
East, Central and Southern Africa all have different approaches to making food. For Uganda, it is their way of cooking with clay pots, using smoked leaves and water to steam meat and bananas.
Zanzibaris are masters of spices given they grow them on the island and use coconut to enhance the flavours, while Kenyans at the coast will also use tamarind for that extra sweet and sour, saliva-inducing taste to their dishes.
West Africans are heavy on pepper and pound leaves and they also eat more greens than the rest of the continent, Cosmas says. For example, a recipe with a two kilogramme cut of beef, will have a kilogramme of pepper, and smoked fish as a condiment added at the very last.
On the chef’s current menu is sweet potato and arrow root dauphinois which he makes for dinner at the intimate Sikia Restaurant.
Instead of using crème fraiche like the French, he uses milk with fresh herbs, black pepper, salt and cheese for this infusion of mainly traditional foods, organically grown.
His worst meal is smoked dog meat.
‘‘While at Polana Serena in Mozambique, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited and his chefs, stewed the dog meat and asked me to try,’’ he says, adding being a chef he’s had to try out many weird foods including worms, snails, sea snake and frog legs which taste like rabbit.
Cosmas says Kenyans should “stick to the flavours of their mothers’ or grandmothers’ food.” For him, his mother made the best muthokoi.
“I get upset when I travel in Africa and see the types of things we cannot create here,” he says, while urging the Tourism secretary Najib Balala to ‘‘create a space like Uhuru Gardens and Mama Ngina Drive in Mombasa where tourists can eat street food, a sort of a carnival feel.