Chef Joseph Macharia
Chef Joseph Macharia is a high-profile chef in East Africa and is the current chair of supreme chefs. He is also the Executive Chef at Muthaiga Country Club, Nairobi.
THIS IS HIS STORY ABOUT WORK AND WHY COOKING IS HIS FIRST LOVE.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Nairobi, Different estates; different schools, but in our lovely motherland, Kenya.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef? What inspired you to want to be a chef, and who was your immediate role model on the same?
I always loved cooking since childhood. I helped my mother most of the time after school to prepare meals, and since I am her only child, I had to learn how to do things around the house. I would find myself with her in the kitchen and I guess while we were cooking and chatting, I picked ideas on how to cook local foods and I got the passion from her.
What is your favourite food memory?
My favourite food memory is actually how I joined this career. I count myself lucky as I had applied through a TV show known as “Yes you can,” which was meant to give individuals who applied to try out what they would want to be for a day. I got lucky when I got the nod from an estimated 750 fellow entrants. Obviously, I said I would love to be a chef for a day. I landed at the Norfolk Hotel and worked with a fantastic team of chefs under the watchful eyes of the then Executive Chef Eamon Mullan. I experienced how a kitchen is operated. We created a three-course meal and I was lucky to have lunch at the Chefs Table. I managed to convince Chef Mullan that I had a great interest in being a chef. I did a formal application, and the rest is history as they say.
Where were you trained, and how difficult was your training? Did you contemplate quitting at some juncture or you were completely sure this was the line of career you wanted to pursue?
I trained at the famous Norfolk Hotel Nairobi, then under the flagship of the Lonroh group of Hotels. I was an apprentice for 6 months then got employed as a Commis Chef. Working at Norfolk was quite a daunting task. Working hours were crazy. We would come in at 5:30 am, set for breakfast, after which we would prepare for lunch, serve and prepare again for Dinner. We closed the shop at around midnight and slept on the staff bus on our way home. The next day would be a similar routine. On off days, all I did was sleep the entire day to cover up for lost sleep during the week. And it was really busy. I never thought of ever quitting even though it was difficult. Somehow, if you have the passion you ended up loving it.
How do you get your inspiration, after all these years of experience in the chef’s kitchen?
I get my inspiration from travelling and reading cookbooks. I have done what in culinary terms is known as “Stage.” I have been to several top-end hotels and restaurants in Europe, for instance, The Ritz London, Claridges London, The Goring London, Hermitage Holland, Simpsons Restaurant Birmingham, Savoy London and several South African brands like the Famous Michael Angelo and African Pride inn Melrose arch hotel. Travelling helps me not only in sampling different types of memorable food but also influences my cooking. I make sure as I travel I get different types of culinary books which bring my mind to trying out different recipes from great chef authored books.
What’s your favourite kitchen equipment or gadget?
My favourite tool is my kitchen knife. A knife is basically a pen to a professional chef. I have a set of 36 different types of knives that are sharpened and always kept in my knife bag. No one from my team can touch nor even think of coming close to my knives. I keep them clean every day and sharpen them every week if not in use. Yes, I love my knives and I cherish them.
What would you consider your best cooking tip for a novice just getting into the business?
My advice would be to grow slowly like a tree. You need to learn the trends and have recipes in your head. Understand your cuisine and you will eventually be a good chef. Also, be okay with failing. As you practice cooking, don’t mind throwing away food. Yes, it’s totally wrong, but all great chefs have once in their career thrown food away but thereafter learnt from the mistake.
Who in the food world do you most admire?
Internationally, I admire chef Daniel Humm. He is the owner and chef of Eleven Madison Park and Nomad restaurant which both have won stars in 2017; but what inspires me is his book, The Eleven Madison Cook Book. The other chef who is a role model to me is Chef Eamon Mullan. He is an icon in the culinary industry. He has passed his knowledge to many Kenyan chefs. He has promoted our local cuisine and also introduced several cuisines in many establishments in Kenya. I respect him a great deal.
What is the food you enjoy cooking the most? And what is the most challenging ingredient to work with?
Seafood dishes are easy to prepare. You can do a lot of stuff with them like smoke, poach, grill, sous vide, and get great end results. And working with expensive products like lobsters, prawns, scallops, sea urchin, makes me feel happy and proud to be a chef.
The most challenging ingredient to work with is foie gras (goose liver). It’s either you have known how to cook it or you don’t. It gets very messy if you don’t.
What do you like to eat when at home? Do you also cook for your family at home? Do they love your food?
I love my wife’s food. She is a very good cook. I love her stews, more so when she prepares “mboga kienyeji”, steamed rice and beef stew. She calls me and lets me know that we will be having my favourite food for dinner. Yes, I do cook at home but when called to do so, perhaps when we have guests and she needs a hand. My sons do love it when I cook.
Are there any foods you just don’t like? Are there incidents when you’ve lost your head because of pressure in the kitchen and the demands from clients to the establishment? Would you say you are always under pressure?
I don’t like cooking livers and Tofu, Every chef has one way or another lost it in the kitchen. The problem we have nowadays is that everyone thinks they know how to cook. From the time cooking TV shows and cooking magazines became a hit, everyone thinks that they are Gordon Ramsey but what they don’t know is the fact that it takes a lot to prepare a dish and serve it to a client.
What’s your favourite cookbook?
Currently, I am enjoying reading Food for the Famous by E.P Mullan which is also his Autobiography. The second book I love is the Eleven Madison park recipe book by Daniel Humm. Lastly, the best French culinary book Larousse, which is a culinary encyclopedia.
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years to come?
I don’t know what the future holds but I’ll still be cooking God willing. It’s in me. I love what I do.
What is going to be the next big thing in the food world?
People are currently health conscious so chefs are more focused on getting organic products that are good for our health. We are also witnessing a rise in home-made food items and various global flavours which clearly indicate that chefs are further experimenting with from-scratch preparation and a broad base of flavours.
What do you do for fun? Where is your favourite place in the world?
I spend a lot of my free time with my family. I play computer games with my sons when free. I take them to movies or we watch a nice movie as a family, outdoor game and trips. I love travelling.
I recently travelled to Belgium and I would say the Grand Palace is the most beautiful place I have ever visited. History and building talk much about the place. I would love to go back and visit again.
Any parting shot?
I am personally happy to have been given this chance to appear on the first edition of this magazine. I hope it enlightens the society what chefs are going through and also encourage many more to join the industry. My advice to all chefs; be happy with what you are doing. Have passion, work hard and you will grow gradually. HAPPY COOKING TO EVERYONE.