I guess you could call me a small town girl as I was born in one, right near the borders of Kenya and Uganda on the Kenyan side. My childhood as I remember it was filled with a lot of the outdoors but most vivid are the memories of food. My English friends laugh when I talk of going upcountry to visit grandmamma or tata as she was fondly known, during the school holidays as it sounds all hoity toity. Boy, how I loved those trips. They were quite an adventure as apart from the excitement of seeing tata and all my cousins, the journey itself was a food fiesta. We passed through some of the country’s most fertile land so it was always a chance to stock up on supplies that included cooking bananas, the most delicious sweet bananas (finger bananas), luscious onions and my favourite of all as we didn’t have to wait to reach our destination to eat it, roasted maize. And when we got there, a sort of garden of Eden would be awaiting us. The countryside was filled with mangoes, guavas, tamarillos, imagine any exotic fruit you’ve had, it was probably there. To top it all, tata was an expert at making yoghurt, milk she’d have stored over months and churned in guard night after night until it was incredibly sour, crisp and divine.
With such memories, it’s no wonder that my favourite pastime is cooking. I remember the first time I cooked like it was yesterday. I’d just come home from school and very grandly announced that I wanted to eat chapatti. Kenyan food has a lot of influence from Indian and Arabic cuisine, the former a legacy of the Indians who came to help the British build the railway as the locals had refused to do so due to local superstition. Chapatti was and still is very much a luxury in most homes therefore mainly eaten at the weekend as a treat for those who can afford it or only on big occasions for the less fortunate. Mum told me supper had already been prepared and that if I wanted chapatti I’d have to cook it myself. She was of course joking and was absolutely amazed when I did it, as I was only about 11 years old! They may have been a bit hexagonal rather than round but I did it and thus began my love affair with food. To this day, I’m told I make the best chapatti and mum will not allow anyone else to make them when I’m home.
To shut my friends up, I agreed to enter MasterChef UK in 2013 and no one was more surprised than I when I got to the quarter finals. If I remember correctly John Torode called me dangerous and Gregg Wallace a rough diamond, both adjectives which I insist on taking as compliments. The experience both inspired and spurred me on as it was confirmation, if any was needed, that I am actually good at this and most importantly that I love it.
I live, breathe and eat food ;-) and I guess would love to share what I’ve learnt over the years with like-minded people. Nothing gives me more pleasure than when I’m in a kitchen concocting recipes and the joy the results elicit from those who experience it. The biggest compliment for me was when one of my guests recently asked what restaurant I worked for!
I may not cook in a professional kitchen but would damn well give those professionals a run for their money.