Shabnam Nayer, the Bailli Délégué of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs of Kenya, has one of the most influential gourmet roles in the country. Winnie Wangui sits down with her to better understand what exactly this means for Kenyan fine cuisine.
What is fine dining?
I would describe it as a progressive dining experience which features intricately prepared dishes that focus on subtle tastes where individual flavours are the epitome of the experience. It involves fine wine and emphasizes on the quality of the dish and not the quantity.
What is Chaîne des Rôtisseurs and how did it come to Kenya?
Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is an International Association of Gastronomy which brings together fine dining enthusiasts from around the world. It currently has over 25,000 members spread out in over 80 countries. Hoteliers, restaurateurs, executive chefs, sommeliers and fine dining lovers are some of the members who constitute Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. In Kenya, Chaîne des Rôtisseurs first started in Mombasa 22 years ago but became defunct for ten years and was revived 12 years ago and had been active ever since. In Nairobi, Chaîne des Rôtisseurs started in 2016 and will be celebrating their second anniversary this April.
How did you get to become the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Bailli Délégué du Kenya?
Before becoming a Bailli Délégué du Kenya, I was a committee member of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Kenyan Chapter which at the time only existed in Mombasa. My husband was the Bailli Délégué du Kenya at the time, a position he held for 8 years i.e two and a half terms. It was actually through his membership that I got interested in fine dining and eventually I was elected to the position for a two-year term. My career prior to Chaîne des Rôtisseurs was in education. I have been a teacher and headmistress in Mombasa based junior schools but I’m retired now.
What success has Chaîne des Rôtisseurs achieved?
During Chaîne dinners, chefs go all out when creating menus. Creativity is unlimited and Chaîne dinners act as avenues to showcase chefs’ skills. Staff at the specific hotels are always trained beforehand on synchronised service, among other skills, hence transforming the entire service experience at the hotel. Sometimes, meals had during Chaîne dinners make it to the a la carte menu, giving non-Chaîne members the opportunity to experience gastronomically prepared meals.
How do hotels get the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs recognition?
Say a hotel would like to get into the Chaîne society, the manager would get in touch with the Bailli Délégué du Kenya and state his/her interest. The hotel would then go through a vetting process, where they would also be taken through Chaîne des Rôtisseurs policies and if they feel they can perform up to par with global standards then they pay an entry fee and an induction ceremony is scheduled.
How has fine dining in Nairobi evolved over the years?
Fine dining in Nairobi has grown immensely and feels like it is still in the experimental stage. When it comes to menus and presentation, I believe the future is bright for Nairobi. Back when we started, most people were used to three course meals as the only fine dining experience but we have restaurants offering special five course menus and more.
What attempt at fine dining has offended you most in life?
We once got the chance to reserve a table at a famous British celebrity chef’s chain restaurant and to be honest our experience did not live up to our expectations. It felt like we were in a factory where food was being churned out in large quantities and fast just so we can leave and the next lot can get in. Tables were too close to each other, too many dinners-like a thousand people, food was bland and it felt like they were cashing in on the celebrity chef’s name.
Can Kenyan food ever be elevated into a fine dining menu?
Any food can be elevated into fine dining and Kenyan food is no exception. For instance, there’s a Chaîne dinner I went to where ugali was on the menu. It was presented as tall towers with intricately cut designs, infused with flavours such as beetroot, which made the ugali become red. The chef received a standing ovation and his menu is still a topic of discussion today. So if ugali can be made into a fine dining meal, what can’t?
When you’re not sampling exquisite meals around the globe, what are you up to?
Mountain climbing. I have climbed Mt. Kenya six times, Mt. Kilimanjaro twice, and I’ve also been mountain climbing in Turkey, Himalayas, just to mention a few. I do technical climbing which involves the use of equipment.
Winnie was hosted for lunch at The Mayura (eatout.co.ke/mayurawestlands)