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Why Kenyans will soon be eating out

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 29 – The ‘eating out’ culture is yet to pick in Kenya, despite a rapid expansion in urban centres and a growing middle class. This is contrary to the trend in the developed world where individuals and families take meals in restaurants, and they even make an occasion out of it.

Capital Business recently caught up with Milcinovich Nguyo, the new Sous chef at Sarova Panafric, whose passion for cooking has given him determination to improve the eating out culture in this country.
Nguyo has nurtured his passion over 11 years beginning in Kenya, through to South Africa, Germany and London. Born in Kenya, he became a naturalized German citizen following adoption by his German step father. 

Q: Who is Milcinovich Nguyo?

A: I am a passionate cook who discovered his calling at the early age of nine and nurtured it over the period. I had to leave the country at the age of 19 when couldn’t get a job due to my young age, and my father who was running a restaurant at the time lost it under some unfortunate circumstances.

Q: What does a Sous Chef do?

A: The Sous Chef is usually the deputy of the “Head Chef’, who is in charge of every kitchen. He or she (Head Chef) is responsible for running the activities of the kitchen including managing the staff. Usually right under him comes the Chef Departe who is in charge of the other chefs mandated with  taking care of the sauces, deserts and the cold  ladder. 

Q: When did the cooking bug hit you? 

A: I began my career in my father’s restaurant where I worked both at the front and at the back. That is where I picked up the passion for cooking and have never turned back since then. I then went to South Africa for an apprenticeship further proceeding to London and Germany both to work and study.

Q: What do you think of the restaurant business in this country?

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A: It has really grown over the period that I have been out of the country. Quite nice places have developed all over the place. However, the really nice food seems to be served more in the top notch restaurants. Sadly most of the menus in these places seem to be similar in that they are mostly serving the same steaks, sandwiches, and fish, basically cooked almost in the same way. It’s like all of them were developed from one ‘MASTER’ menu!

Q: How about the eating out culture?

A: Unlike in the Western countries, here people don’t go out to eat as often as they do it out there. Maybe it has to do with the salaries and wages structure. Abroad people eat out at least thrice a week. They are also willing to experiment and a restaurant’s reputation is usually determined by the Chef. However in my experience at the Panafric so far, most Kenyans prefer a fixed menu, ‘something they are used to’.

Q: What are you expected to do for Panafric as the new Sous Chef?

A: The hotel wants to change the Flame Tree restaurant from a basic eatery to a fully fledged restaurant. This will involve introducing a new menu but without discarding some of the favourite oldies.

We do already have a new menu in place and I am quite impressed by the take up so far.

Q: How was the response from your staff on the new changes and your style of management?

A: At first they were a bit reluctant considering my age and the new way of cooking. However I am a hands-on person and the fact that I practice what I preach has encouraged them to work with me.

Q: How would you describe your style of management?

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A: First priority is my staff. And being young, I have worked from bottom where there are things I never liked and which I am not going to put my staff through. I can be demanding in that I hate shortcuts. It will take me certain duration to do something and I expect my member of staff to do the same.

For me customer satisfaction is the ultimate: I taste my food at every stage. For instance, I will taste my apple raw and through every stage it goes all the way through to the end result, be it in the form of pudding or any other recipe.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: By the time I am through with my two years sponsorship at the Panafric I want the Flame Tree to be one of the most popular restaurants in this town. I want it to be as attractive to the public as the coffee houses that dot the city centre. We are just two steps away from the City Centre so it will be nice that when people break for lunch this is the first place they think of.

I’m hoping to have improved the experimental nature of my customers so that one day I will be able to invite them to taste the introduction of 12 new small meals and they will be willing to do it.

Starting my own restaurant is something I eventually intend to do. By the time I achieve this am hoping to have created enough awareness so that Kenyans are more willing to try new things, appreciate food and want to get value for their money. I want them to come to my restaurant because they are assured that with me that will always be the case.

I would further like to see a more competitive spirit in the industry where restaurants and chefs want be known more for the kind of food they serve.

Q: What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?

A: Some people say I am overconfident and maybe a bit arrogant but this sort of works well for me. I ensure I deliver what I promise and nothing less. And to make things work I push myself to the very end. I’m also used to having things go my way. I have always been in a position where I did not have to report to too many people and so I always want to do things my way.

Q: In your view what is the future of the restaurant business in this country?

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A: The future is bright. It only needs a bit of passion, a sense of competition and introduction of value for the meals and services offered.

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