We meet the head pastry chef, Chef Agnes Ooko of Le Grenier à Pain. She tells us about her first trip out of the country to Angers, France and what it takes to become a pastry chef.
Finding the Le Grenier à Pain bakery is like a treasure hunt with delicious French baked goods at the end of your journey. Located at 9 Riverside Drive in a large corporate-looking building, you’ll weave through what feels like a maze: take an elevator down to the basement, come out into a dark corridor, take a left, then a right, then follow your nose. Through two dark grey doors you’ll find a spotless kitchen referred to as ‘the lab’, friendly staff, and four bakers: two for the bakery, two for the pastry kitchen.
We are seated with Chef Agnes Ooko in the small office adjoining the lab, the only part of the kitchen not dedicated to baked goods. Chef Agnes has been in working in the pastry industry for 10 years and is close to marking a year at Le Grenier à Pain. Her love for baking and cooking started at a young age, Chef Agnes, who tells us she was inspired by her grandmother who was a trained chef, studied at Utalii College then pursued an internship at Midlands Hotel in Nakuru. After her experience in a few hotel kitchens, she knew it was time to specialise and chose to go into the field of baking pastries. “Pastry chefs are like rare pearls”, Chef Agnes says of the pastry chef community in Kenya.
Apparently, working in the pastry kitchen isn’t as attractive to other chefs, something which Chef Agnes attributes to the type of work that’s done in a pastry kitchen. Pastries take patience and attention to detail; every measurement, timing and temperature needs to be exact to get the perfect product. Due to their absence in the Kenyan market, there is high demand for a well-trained pastry chef.
When Chef Agnes joined the Le Grenier à Pain team, she was sent to the original Le Grenier à Pain kitchen in Angers France for a month with Chef Wallace (the head baker) for training. Although they both had previous formal training, a month in the Le Grenier a Pain kitchen allowed them to shadow and assist the Le Grenier à Pain chefs and learn unique French baking techniques. Upon their return to Nairobi, together with Myra Kivuvani, Director of Special Occasions cakes and well known baker in Nairobi, they opened the first Le Grenier à pain in Africa right here in our backyard.
Le Grenier à Pain only uses local ingredients to create their baked goods and the results are as close to authentic French pastries as you can get here in Nairobi. “We should start exporting some of our butter to Le Grenier [in France] because I feel like our croissants here are much better than what they have there” Chef Agnes jokes.
Although the lab currently consists of four employees, Chef Agnes tells us that they’re able to produce quality pastries en mass. “We are able to make as many [baked goods] as we have orders,” Chef Agnes notes, “it’s all about planning properly”. The team has made upwards of 3,000 baked goods for clients in the past. For individuals looking to grab a loaf of bread, a pain au chocolat, or a freshly baked croissant, small batches of these are made fresh daily and are available from the Greiner kitchen. As word gets around, their baked goods are in high demand so be sure to order yours, or, drop by early to pick some up.