Farm Africa: Chef Dennis Mwakulua visits farmers in western Kenya

The Staff Canteen

For their latest blog, Farm Africa speak to Dennis Mwakulua,  group chef at Eversheds Group, about his career, returning to Kenya to visit farmers and how he intends to continue his support for the charity.

It was pilau rice that did it for Dennis Mwakulua! That first taste set him on a career path that led to his present role as head chef at Eversheds Group.

Dennis Mwakulua
Dennis in Kenya

As a young man Dennis had come to England from Kenya with the intention of studying business and finance at university. To pay his way he began working as a kitchen porter at Merrill Lynch. His positive attitude and work ethic soon got him noticed by the head chef.

When Dennis took that first taste of pilau rice he asked how rice could taste “so good” and the head chef saw in him that vital spark of passion. Dennis was offered a traineeship and after thinking it over and talking to friends decided to accept.

He has never looked back!

“I’ve met some fantastic people, worked with some great chefs and become a member of the Craft Guild of Chefs, who saw potential in me and guided me to where I need to be. When I started winning lots of awards I realised that I’m very fortunate to be where I am.”

When he went back to Kenya after eight years he became even more aware of his good fortune and wanted to give something back. His first thoughts were to build a hospital for women and children, but after being persuaded this was a bit too ambitious for just one person, turned his thoughts to helping through food. It was then that he became involved with Farm Africa, an international charity helping farmers across eastern Africa to boost yields and build their links to high-value markets.

Along with Ashley Palmer-Watts, last month Dennis attended Nairobi Restaurant Week as a Farm Africa ambassador, working hard to create fantastic canapés from ingredients produced in Farm Africa’s projects in western Kenya, such as beans, tomatoes, potatoes and tilapia.

French beans growing in western Kenya
French beans growing in western Kenya

When Dennis visited some of the projects ‘up-country’ he was inspired to do more.

“It was an eye-opener. People don’t see what Farm Africa does. It does a lot! Especially empowering the youth to see that farming is a good way to make a living.”

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With the expanding restaurant scene in Nairobi, Dennis can see many opportunities for developing the sort of links that exist in the UK between top restaurants and farmers producing high-quality local produce. One problem he feels, is that Kenyan farmers are not aware of the potential of the domestic market.

“They are only targeting the international export market and cannot see that they could sell their green beans to the restaurants, rather than feeding them to the cows. It is crazy also that tilapia is imported from China when they are farming it locally. Restaurateurs also need to go and visit the farmers to make the connections.”

Dennis felt that the chefs’ visit to farms in the run-up to Nairobi Restaurant Week was a move in the right direction, but these links “are not quite there yet. Farm Africa has some fantastic projects that are really targeting the young men and women showing them that becoming a famous pop star is not the only way to success. The music scene in Kenya is booming but not everyone has those talents.”

As a city boy growing up in a comfortable home in Mombasa, never really visiting the country as a young person, Dennis feels he has a lot to learn about how food is grown. “

Dennis with farmers
Dennis with Kenyan farmers

I saw the project that Farm Africa was doing and I loved it and I thought why did I not think about this a long time ago? It took me this time to see how things are grown. It was very inspiring. We take these things for granted.”

Dennis is determined to do more to support Farm Africa’s work in Kenya by inspiring its chefs to seek out fresh produce grown locally, bringing hope and prosperity for a new generation of young farmers across the country.

“Farming can be a way for young people to earn a good living and support their family and I’d like to help Farm Africa’s projects expand into other areas across Kenya.”

Dennis visited Farm Africa’s Growing Futures horticulture project and Kenya Market-led Aquaculture Project in western Kenya.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd February 2017

Farm Africa: Chef Dennis Mwakulua visits farmers in western Kenya