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October 2012 travel news 43
Duncan Mitchell is a retired gentleman
who lives on Kenya's north coast at Vipingo
Ridge. His twin passions are his partner
Jane, and golf.
This story is not Kenya Coast orientated,
in fact it's not even wholly Kenyan, but it
does refect on Kenya’s changing epicurean
scene... and, proudly, it's about my son, so
all the more reason to slip it in under my by-
How things go around. Some years ago
Jane and I had an English couple come stay
with us in Provence, in the South of France.
The two were gourmands kabisa, serious
food fundis, and they insisted on taking
us to a Michelin 2-Star restaurant deep in
the Luberon Mountains. A fantastic drive
to get there; steep wooded valleys, thick
forests, hairpin bends, ancient olive groves,
gnarled grape vines and fnally, just outside
Bonnieux, we were at "Restaurant Edouard
Loubet a la Bastide de Capelongue", a superb
luxury boutique hotel and restaurant in an
old French chateau clinging to a precipice
with fantastic views. We are introduced to
Monsieur Edouard Loubet, La Bastide's
proprietor, chef extraordinaire and author of
numerous tomes on the culinary arts.
Everything was impeccable, but having
been ceremoniously handed the only menu
showing the prices, I was rather silent
throughout the meal. The memory of our
English host's shocked white face as he
generously intercepted the bill and then
fumbled for his diamond-tipped credit card
will forever remain with me.
Move to earlier this year when M. Loubet,
came to Kenya to demonstrate his art to a
top chain of Kenya hotels, and happens into
the Talisman Restaurant in Karen where he
meets my son, the chef, Marcus.
He invites Marcus to spend two weeks of
intensive exposure to the world of French
haute cuisine at his establishment in the
South of France.
Marcus’ frst week at La Bastide was ‘at
the back of the kitchen'... the menial side
of chopping, cutting, peeling and prepping,
always under constant pressure from the
cooking team. "Voila, you, Rosbif queek
weeth ze pomfrits..." In between he gathered
recipes, preparation tips and watched the
chefs in action.
Then he plunged into the front-line
trenches and really found out what Michelin-
star cooking is all about. Forty patrons are
expected for dinner and fve chefs take 8
hours to prepare the menu with an extra
three chefs drafted in for the fnal touches.
Each dish is carefully scrutinized before it
is released to the servers; every tiny detail
is painstakingly covered or rehearsed; for
instance, a whole truffe is baked in pate
du foi gras and when laid before the lucky
diner with a grand fourish, yet more truffe is
shaved over the dish.
French chefs don't slack around. They
don't chitchat, listen to iPods or make jokes.
They are deadly serious about their jobs
and regard working under Maestro Loubet
to be a great honour. Strangely, most of
the sous-chefs Marcus spoke with don't
want to eventually have their own 2-Star
establishment - all agree one Michelin star is
preferable, easier, and cheaper to manage.
But whatever, Michelin stars are more than
prestige; they are the pulse and temperature
of French gastronomes.
The chefs are precise to a point of
pedantic; Marcus was delicately dissecting a
pigeon when a chef angrily stopped him and
grabbed the knife to show how he wanted it
done. Marcus could not see any difference
between his cut and the chef's slice, but
obviously the chef wished his own brand of
refnement. An ordinary mushroom on toast
becomes a major art work; unfolded to the
dining table as "chantrelles, pied de mutton,
crepes and seasonal porcinis on an assiette
of winter rye." Marcus reckons if you thought
the dish sexy, you could call the rye bread
pornographic; dirty, rough, well kneaded,
wonderfully sour and just beautiful!
Eduard Loubet is renowned for his liberal
use of herbs, and the South of France has just
about every type and kind of herb to be found
in a kitchen. For one dish he infuses mixed
herbs with milk and cream heated precisely
to below boiling and then quickly whisked to
produce a delicate froth which looks great,
for instance, with seafood, almost as if the
waves are still lapping the lobster's claws.
Service in such a restaurant is massive
entertainment.The pace incredible;soprecise
is the organization that almost immediately
after serving 40 something clients with some
300 different plates of food, the sections
are spotlessly clean with every utensil put
away in its exact place. It's hard to believe
that a short two hours ago the entire kitchen
area was an explosion of organized chaos.
Marcus returned to Kenya in a state of
semi-shock. Now he has to apply two weeks
of highly intensive French art-cuisine to the
Talisman that traditionally works at a slower
pace. Will he manage to do it? Marcus is
convinced he will make it work. Of course,
one cannot simply introduce years of French-
type dedication to a kitchen; but he will apply
some of the most-telling lessons learned at
la Bastide to his Karen establishment.
The essential elements are commitment,
discipline and meticulous attention to detail,
which Marcus reckons he already has in
spoonfuls at the Talisman.
Ah ha, cry the critics, but what about
those superb South of France ingredients?
Well, counters our Kenya chef, we have
just as good here, if not better! We have
great ostrich meat, the tilapia from Lake
Victoria is almost legendary for its delicate
taste, and the Indian Ocean produces fresh
lobster, great crab, prawns and any type of
pelagic fsh you would want. There are fresh
veggies, herbs and farm products available
from small holdings and cottage industries
everywhere in Kenya. We have superb grain-
fed beef and of course all the dairy products;
cheeses, yogurt, creams. Sadly, our pork
and poultry industry needs upgrading, but
hopefully that will come.
As to that wonderful rough rye bread that
Marcus enthuses about; well, he has his
own Nairobi bakery and soon the ovens
will give birth to a whole range of French-
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