He’s explosive, he’s eccentric and he’s the head chef of J’s Fresh Bar and Kitchen. Brazilian Chef Agne Costa has lived and he has the tattoos to prove it.
The dust is still setting at the newly completed J’s Fresh Bar & Kitchen in Westlands, when I meet with the Head Chef, Chef Agne one sunny Wednesday afternoon. A young chef with the ability to captivate any audience with ease, Chef Agne is happy to talk about his travels over the past fifteen years which have seem him work in the kitchens of 11 different countries. “I’m a Nomad”, he states, grinning widely.
Born and raised in Brazil, where his mother owned a restaurant which him and his siblings would work in, chef Agne nurtured his passion for cooking from an early age. At the age of 17, his family relocated to Portugal where he attended an arts and history college for four years and culinary school for three. Chef Agne remembers these years as some of the most grueling: he would work from 6am to midnight for 6 years, completing his degrees and working in a restaurant kitchen to pay the bills.
Since graduating from school in Portugal, Chef Agne has been travelling the world. In 2012 he was in Berlin and met a tall, curly haired white man who said he was from Kenya. This man’s father owned a lodge in Timau and encouraged Chef Agne to move to Kenya to become the head chef. “We spoke about three times and after three months I was in Kenya. I took a flight from Germany without any idea what was going to happen. I landed at around 10PM and was driven to straight to Timau in about 4 hours”. This may seem out of the ordinary to some, but these kinds of spur of the moment decisions are not uncommon in Chef Agne’ career trajectory. He went on to live in Kenya for a year spending the rainy season in Europe and the rest of the year in Timau.
Chef Agne met Johnnie McMillan, the owner of J’s Fresh Bar & Kitchen a few years after leaving Kenya, off of a friend’s recommendation when he was living in Spain. Chef Agne flew to Kenya for four days to meet Johnny who told him he should come back to Kenya to lead the J’s kitchen team full time . Chef Agne has now been here for about two years and in all of his travels, this is the first place he’s considered home outside of Portugal. To prove his claim, Chef Agne points to a tattoo of the Kenyan shield on his calf, one of several which represents places in the world which are most significant to him. Chef Agne has many tattoos although he tells us that the one that means the most to him is the aztec buffalo on the top of his left hand. “I was chased by a buffalo when I was in Timau, on one of my morning runs” Chef Agne laughs at the memory. He had to climb up a tree and hold on for his dear life, calling for help until someone came to his rescue. On separate occasions, he would come across a lone elephant and a snake, both of which he’d have to out run.
Adrenaline seems to follow Chef Agne wherever he goes or perhaps, he seeks it. In the weeks since the opening of the new J’s in Westlands, where the old Juniper’s Kitchen was, business has been booming. “We’re three times as busy as I thought we’d be” Chef Agne states. Many patrons living in Westlands who would usually travel to Karen for J’s relaxed ambiance and British gastropub grub now revel in the opportunity to have J’s in their backyard. Although they’re busy now, Chef Agne remembers Nairobi Burger Festival where he was so hard at work that he went to his tattoo artist in Yaya Centre on the last day and asked him to “just draw something”. Chef Agne sheepishly points to a compass on his inner right arm “It’s my worst tattoo, I was just too stressed, I needed to get something done”.
The new J’s in Westlands currently has a smaller menu than the original branch although they plan to expand it. One dish that remains constant is the beetroot risotto, Chef Agne’ speciality. The recipe was conceptualised when Chef Agne was in Timau and decided to challenge himself with making a dish using local ingredients solely sourced from the farm. Chef Agne experience with perfecting risotto came from a working at a small Italian restaurant where the only items on the menu were 25 variations of risotto. The dish was a hit and therefore he introduced it to the J’s menu. “Everywhere I go I take my risotto with me” says Chef Agne “Everyone can make a risotto but there’s a small twist that makes a risotto great rather than just good”. Here’s to hoping Chef Agne will be in town long enough for us all to try this delicious meal.