Rabuko is a new salad bistro that sits comfortably on the ground floor of The Mall in Westlands. The small restaurant is hard to miss with its green and golden brown colour palette that makes you feel like you have stepped into a restaurant set up in the middle of a forest. This makes sense because the very inspiration for the food, ambience and decor comes from the thriving coastal Arabuko Sokoke forest in Kenya. The menu features healthy and tasty dishes such as a breakfast Berry Bowl, a crunchy Cashew Later salad and our favourite, the Woodland Wrap.
Once we ate their food, my colleague and I had to sit down and talk to the talent behind this expansive healthy menu. Chef Christopher Mbondo took some time off from serving up these delicious meals and spoke to us about Rabuko, menu development and eating healthy.
Could you explain to us what a cold kitchen is?
It is an area designated for cold meals such as salads and cold soups as well but at Rabuko we do hot soups instead of cold ones.
It took you 8 months to come up with this menu, could you take us through what that process was like?
Well, menu engineering is a process where you have to figure out so many things like cost, profitability, the source of your supplies, how your concept will work with your market etc.
So for this menu, we had to do a lot of research. Firstly, we had to look at all the ingredients we use and what the health benefits are. Secondly, because we are using the farm to fork concept we visited different farms and got to understand how they do their harvesting and all their other logistics. We had to talk to people because it is a new concept so we had to find out a variety of people’s opinions on it whether it was vegans, vegetarians and even the people who love meat.
We ran a test kitchen before we launched in order to get the good and bad reviews then took the bad reviews and worked on them hence the 8 months.
So you could say it was a labour of love! And everything on the menu is very well put together.
Yes, every ingredient in each dish has a health benefit. Being a new concept, we really did our research because we believe in restorative nutrition.
When you first heard about the concept of the restaurant, what was your immediate vision for the menu?
What immediately came to mind was restorative nutrition because you almost want the food to be medicine. Well, it first took me straight to the hospitals. I understood that I had to do intense research.
How did you manage to find a balance between savoury (and sweet) meals that meat-loving Kenyans, vegetarians and vegans would like?
When you ‘re coming up with a menu that has dietary restrictions the first thing you’re going to do is talk to different people, taking the time to understand different tastes and what people want to see in a dish. People don’t understand though that we are who we are because of what we eat, once you get that it then moves from what the chef wants to what the client wants and when you do that and the client comes in for a meal they will be blown away.
Did you have to do many tests?
Yes, the first panel that we had got very good reviews. It is a lettuce-free salad bistro so what people understand to be a salad is completely different from what we were presenting to them. Just the fact that you can have different dishes from the cold kitchen and get filled up is different. The reviews have been good, the only adjustments we made was when we opened and got more feedback from diners.
Of all the dishes on the menu, do you have a favourite?
I love everything. Each dish on the menu has its own strength but for a first-time visitor, I would recommend the entrees because they have 6-8 ingredients so there are a lot of health benefits and you get to taste so much.
Do you have a favourite ingredient you love to work with?
The first test we did, we had dishes that didn’t make it to the menu and from that point, we were left with the top ingredients and those are the ones I love.
What is the bestselling dish?
The Bahn mi sandwich which has pork sausage, coriander, cucumber, jalapenos, carrots, pickled daikon and chilli mayo spread on a baguette.
Do you eat the same way at home?
After receiving this concept, I started changing my eating habits and what I buy. You can’t give people something you’re not consuming. It is not easy though, it is a journey but with time the body will change and it will get easier.
What’s the best part of your job?
Getting a good reception with a new concept in the market. When a new customer comes in and orders something, it gets to them on time, they enjoy it and leave satisfied; that’s the best thing. Knowing you served them more than just food, that is the best part as well.
Any advice for someone trying to come up with tasty healthy meals?
Find out the nutritional value of what you’re eating. Find out your substitutes then find a different way to prepare it. Find a good place to source your things, don’t use niche ingredients
We loved the basil walnut and cashew cream dressings that came with our meals. What would you say is the secret to making a delicious sauce?
Get to know the taste profile of what you’re using. Once you know that you’ll know how to put two things together without having them clash.
Let’s end this interview with advice for younger chefs?
Feed your passion with a lot of research. It is one thing to have the paperwork but you need to understand the food trends and other relevant things. Also, get to know your target audience and read a lot of food-related articles to gain more exposure. Have the will to grow your career. Invest in your passion.
Look out for more information on Rabuko in our March issue!