You won’t meet many chefs who can dish out pretty much any French pastry recipe off the top of their head, and in the same breath, geek out about the sky and their astrophotography equipment.
I am seated at the delicatessen of Sankara Nairobi trying to mask the childlike glee threatening to erupt all over my face, brought on by the lemon meringue I am currently tucking into. It is the perfect combination of sweet and sour, complete with fresh lemon pulp which bursts in the mouth to give the fluffy meringue topping a rich and tangy taste. Just from looking at the menu, I would probably have gone with the Strawberry Fraisier, but I am glad Pascal suggested this as a must-try item off the menu. He is like a walking pastry cookbook, and while trying to keep up with his accent, I scribble down some of the tips he is so passionately dishing out in quick succession.
Pascal started cooking professionally at 16, and this was because he needed to find a profession that suited him. He started off with apprenticeship in Paris for two years before moving to Versailles and later Lyon to work for luxury hotels. He spent four years between Sheraton and Four Seasons in England to improve his English, after which came the opportunity to work abroad. A year and a half stint in Ankara, Turkey led to joining Hyatt Hotel in Istanbul for the opening. Pascal then worked with Hyatt for 15 years, moving around Istanbul, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and finally Moscow. He is therefore accustomed to working with clientele living the jet set lifestyle, and the pressure that comes with it. “In this profession, if you’re passionate, you must look after details. This starts right from the ingredients bought, preparation, presentation and how it is served to the client,” he states. “A croissant for instance has to always be done just right and can never be even slightly too crispy. Be proud of what you put in everything and customers will enjoy it.”
Before coming to Kenya in 2010, Pascal worked in the Maldives for 18 months. The chef who did the opening for Sankara was a witness at his wedding and one thing pretty much led to another. “When I got here, the standards didn’t really compare to what I was used to and so I had to start all over again to improve things. It took 6 months to 1 year to arrive at what we offer now, “ he states. The menu at the Deli is however constantly being switched up with new promotions every so often. Pascal mentions a macaron promotion coming up in April, with about 15 different flavours on offer.
To keep things creative, the chef reiterates that he looks for things that are trending in his own country and implements those here. But while French chefs have been known to be sticklers for tradition, Pascal believes in reinventing classic dishes by adding a contemporary twist, a shift that’s already happening in France right now by the new crop of young (and even older) chefs. However, when it comes to the opera for instance, one of the most well known cakes in France, he still prefers to stick to the classic recipe because making it trendy would be difficult. It is made with coffee, chocolate ganache and almond biscuit, and served at the right temperature, it is fantastic!
So how does a French chef spend Valentine’s Day? For Pascal, it will probably be at work. He will still be sure to give his wife a rose, make her some pastries and take her to dinner. It is however not always all work and no play for this chef. He likes diving, and when he lived between Maldives and Egypt, Pascal says he did about 500 dives. He also likes climbing, but is yet to go up mount Kenya. If Pascal wasn’t a chef, he would probably be working for NASA as he loves astronomy and is actually a hobbyist astrophotographer. This passion started in 1996 and when he actually worked around the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, he would go lie somewhere and look up at sky. It is very calming, he tells me. For about 20 minutes he waxes lyrical to the now awe-eyed photographer about his astrophotography equipment, and the conversation veers into very technical territory I personally don’t care much for. As they geek out about the sky, my mind wanders, yet again, to that strawberry fraisier. I will have to get it to-go.