When Chef Aris Athanasiou first came to Kenya to work at The Fairmont Group as executive chef one year ago, the only buffets available were foreign ones; Mediterranean, Indian and Pan Asian.
The kitchen maestro with a love for growing his own herbs and vegetables, went around looking for what he could add to make the local flavours more present in his menu.
His favourite Kenyan food? Matumbo.
“The first time it was served to me I ran because of the smell, but when I tasted it, I stayed there. We have the same in Greece, we make it in a different way but using the exact same ingredients,” he says.
Every Wednesday at The Lord Delamere Terrace, at the Norfolk Hotel, the best of Kenyan cuisine is served in a buffet, including mouthwatering tripe (matumbo). There is also a live githeri station, where the Chef Fred Oduor whips it up to your taste, complete with a flambé display.
A few meters away is an active mutura and nyama choma section with a chef, all too happy to explain the health benefits of the condiments on his table. Among them, kachumbari, chopped green chillies, roasted garlic cloves, and a mint-based sauce that is to die for.
The hotel’s cool retro vibe with a Tudor architectural style give the Lord Delamere Terrace a relaxing environment to share hearty meals, reminiscent of mother’s cooking.
The naturally lit but secluded verandah displays gourds with carvings on them, flowers, tropical fruit, tubers, salads and sauces, as the backdrop for the food and aromas that waft through with pickings from different parts of the country.
Fairmont The Norfolk, is integral to Kenya’s history. Opened on Christmas Day in 1904, and being Kenya’s oldest hotel, where settlers used as an escape, it was only fitting that Kenya’s cuisine also be added to its already vibrant international palate.
“It’s part of our fibre. We are known for our heritage, it’s so ingrained in the culture of the city and the country that we want to give the complete experience which includes the ambience and the food,” says Njeri Chege, group communications manager, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts Kenya.
Chef Aris loves to experiment with the fluids, vegetables and the sea food from Mombasa, hence dishes like matumbo, samaki wa kupaka, managu in cream, mukimo, matoke in a rich sauce, boiled and roasted maize, and rice in coconut and parsley just to mention but a few of the Kenyan dishes on his menu.
The Greek-born professional brings his flair to the buffet, saying “small details make a big difference at the end of the day”.
For example, in the sukuma wiki, he adds a little bit of a tomato sauce and a little bit of cream, and coconut milk to tweak the texture.
“I bring my 25 years experience, and we combine it with tradition in a modern way,” Chef Aris says, adding that “it’s the good ingredients that bring the good results at the end of the day.”
Most of the vegetables served at Fairmont The Norfolk come from their Mara property—the Fairmont Mara Safari Club.
They grow potatoes, herbs, beetroot, and tubers. Beef is sourced from Naivasha and the pork comes from a small farm in Tigoni.
The Kenyan buffet, has attracted many walk-ins since it was started a year ago, about 50 walk-ins every lunch, not to mention the repeat clients and guests staying in the luxury space, showing that Kenyan cuisine is indeed here to stay.