Taste of China Head Chef Geoffrey Donde may not know how many safurias, the Kenyan version of a wok, he’s got in his kitchen back at home, but he sure knows how many choppers, woks and other cooking utensils he’s got in his kitchen at work. This master chopper can’t count them on his ten fingers though. Not that he hasn’t got them all, which he does, but because they are too many of them either hanging from the Taste of China kitchen ceilings or hidden in the cupboards to fit on the fingers of his two hands. “I don’t cook at home. In fact I don’t know how many sufurias I have,” he says.
The fact that after 16 years of chopping and stir frying Chef Donde still has all of his ten fingers and no obvious burn marks on his hands and forearms, are tell tell signs of his dexterity. In all of his years at Taste of China not once has he set fire to the kitchen.
The Kisumu native who started his career as a kitchen helper at China Plate and slowly climbed the chef ladder to his current Head Chef gig working side by side with Taste of China owner/chef Arty Lakhani, insists he is passionate about Chinese cuisine.
Cooking Chinese food allows Chef Donde to use fresh, local ingredients. It also requires precise chopping and loads of stir frying and tossing which, although looks easy at a glance, actually requires knowledge and understanding of the precise moment when the oil starts ‘singing’ to the perfect tune for the ingredients to go in. Oil temperature too low and you get a soggy mush, too high and you get overcooked bits, he explaines.
When he walks in in the morning and puts on his immaculate chef coat, apron and toque, the selftaught 37-year-old gets on with the precise business of running a kitchen where nothing is pre-cooked or pre-made but everything is made to order. According to him, this is part of the challenge and of the fun.
“We work well together,” Lakhani smiles. “We have the same passion for food. We like to mess around with ingredients and come up with new dishes. If we are happy with it, then we put it on the menu. We also do specials.” With their different culinary tastes, Donde’s favourite dish is the fried Tilapia in chilli garlic sauce and Lakhani’s is the Lemon Prawns. The two like to experiment and cook up new dishes, which Lakhani said she sometimes tests on her 9 year old, son Krishna. “He’s got great taste” Lakhani says adding, “he knows if an ingredient is missing and will tell me exactly what he likes and doesn’t like. I know he will be a cook someday”.
Taste of China’s Chef brings a new twist to traditional Chinese cuisine. While the ingredients used are the same, Lakhani says the Taste of China cuisine is spicier, incorporating chilli and ginger to accommodate the restaurant’s eclectic clientele of Indo-Chinese, Kenyan and Expats.
“We love it when a client walks in and asks for somethng that’s not on the menu. Then Goeffrey and I, we get to play,” she says. “A ‘Well done you guys!’ is what makes the long hours and criticisms worth it.