Sa-far-i-way from home by Kevin Barron Part 2 Executive Chef Ole Sereni Hotel Kenya

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th January 2011
Kevin Barron is Executive Chef at Ole Sereni Hotel Kenya, Kevin shares his overseas journey, offering a Chefs' eye view, of the life of an Ex-Pat in Kenya

PART 2 (Part 1 can be viewed HERE) So notice goes in we cancel all the bills sky,phones had a big problem with the house we rented and ended up losing 900 odd pounds in deposit etc etc. So I was/am very close to the Group Exec of the company who owns Whittlebury Hall where I was Head Chef and was a little hesitant in telling him I was going both he and the company and indeed the group GM Mr Mark Jones had been good to me but also recognized the need for me to grow and agreed it was a good opportunity that I could use. We have a few leaving do's, work buys me some lovely things as a thank you amongst others  a nice jacket with all the boys and girls I had worked with and their national flags, Polish, Bulgarian, Maltese, Indian to name a few, the jacket is actually here with me in Kenya, I must frame it. All our house and my lovely BMW goes into garages at my mum's place, ( only later to be broken into and stuff thieved, but again that's later) I buy a nice laptop which the company will reimburse me when we get there so loads of cds go on and recipes and procedures and all sorts are loaded up. Sad to be leaving but also feel excited about what lies ahead we should be open in January!!!!! So on the Kenya Airways flight we go 8 and a bit hours to Kenya"¦"¦"¦ The CEO told us we would need to pay 50 US Dollars each upon entry for our vises so I make sure that's ready and in the wallet, so it's ready for when we land. We land and are picked up now I am chomping at the bit to see this hotel I had only seen in plans and artists impressions, with all its African artifacts and modern design, and also the gleaming kitchens where I would ply my trade. I am a fan of the phrase "˜I shit you not' but I have never had a more "˜I shit you not' moment than when we leave Jomo Kenyatta Int'l Airport, the hotel is a 10-15 minute drive and as we pass the hotel the CEO says theres the hotel I look and see a shell"¦"¦"¦I mean a shell, gaping holes where windows will go and no actual walls just concrete "˜stuff' Ania looks at me and I look at her and im feeling bad as I didn't sign up for this and it was never told to us we wouldn't be ready by January, not once, an all the following phone calls and e-mails, ready by January?? This place wont be ready by next Christmas never mind bloody January, I feel to be honest lied to and pretty shitty about what we have now done, He must have sensed our mood as the CEO says oh it wont be so long until its done!! Yeah righty!!! So he takes us to our apartment and yes very very nice, all open-plan, 3 bedrooms and bonus a pool right in front of the house oh yes!! Maybe things are looking up. He shows us round introduces us to Moses who will be our House-Boy a name I have never got used to and find belittling, so Moses basically washes and cleans 6 days a week for us, a little weird, we would eventually let him go and we now have a driver so Ania is able to get around easily, having a driver works very well for us and Ania is happier keeping house then having someone there cleaning all the time, the CEO leaves us for a nap as we were on the overnight flight and are tired but not so tired to have a nosey round, another Jesus!! Moment when we realise there are bars and gates on all the windows and doors, the gates actually padlock so when we go out we shut the front door lock it and then close the iron gate and padlock it!!!   Wow!!!!   where are we but to be honest now its normal and you don't notice them and everyone has them. Nice apartment though and it has everything in place for us and our new car a cheeky little 4x4 Honda CRV not so bad but I would prefer the open top beemer, is sat outside so we are ready anyway. The CEO's wife comes back for us and takes us for lunch at a nearby mall, its not all bad and actually quite modern and dare I say"¦"¦civilized? We had changed some money at the airport and fell like millionaires as 300 sterling gets you over 36,000 shillings and a beer is 80 shillings in the supermarket, for me most chefs equate the cost of things to how much a beer is and for me that's cool. We go back to our place and have more of a nose around we are in a gated compound with a guard which at first is weird but after a while very normal in Kenya, I don't think twice about it now to be honest. One of the biggest things to move me in Kenya which I wasn't ready for was the time it gets dark not on any of the sites I looked up to find out more about Kenya tells you every day without fail darkness falls at 6.30-6.45 something even now after 2 years still gets to me!! So next day we wake to a really hot day lovely weather here, the CEO is picking us up to look at the hotel, well to take us to the site!!! It is very very far behind and again im getting real bad vibes as to what we have done and a "˜why didn't anyone say anything feeling but we go round actually the kitchens are nearly done and I find out later that a lot of the workers were put on this to make sure it was ready for when "the new chef from the UK gets here' Meet and greet with lots of people the hotel seems to have an army of people I meet Edward the HR maanger who to put it mildly, suprises me in his work ethics, he would later leave, a Chief Accountant, Lydia the lovely Exec HouseKeeper who is still here, 2 IT guys who are still here and still as funny,the FOM and also Allan a young vibrant Food and Beverage Manager who I am still friends with now although he left after becoming disollusioned with things that were to come to us all soon. I'm given a desk (as my office isn't ready) on the admin floor I set to work on the job descriptions and systems I want in place to work to, Lots of CV's are already here and I start to build a team well no actually I start to throw CV's on the thanks but no thanks pile, some CV's look good and I earmark them for interview, my pastry chef arrives tomorrow he was taken on before I got here from another 5 star and im told he is good, well I think ill judge that one. I hand over piles of CV's of people I want to see to the already in place HR manager and he begins the call round and invitations for interview, this process starts next week, I have now done a couple of days to be told there is a national holiday just announced as Obama has been voted in and has close ties with Kenya ??? so a national holiday for that?? wow, Already there are Obama stickers and clocks and tea towels being sold by "˜hawkers' on the roadside, I soon come to realize that most things can be bought by the road here from toolkits to big hunting knives Rambo-style (yes knives!!) to hats,knock off Rolex and Brietling watches and shades to footballs I mean nearly everything oh and pirate DVD's !!! We only work Monday to Friday which as we got closer to opening changed to 6 days then to 7 This weekend one of the Directors is having a Karoga    (a who I said??) Karoga is a cook-out normally in the garden or on the patio/balcony with charcoal grills and stoves where pots of curries and BBQ are done its really nice and very popular with the massive Indian community here, we all sit and chat and drink and I feel a little difficult with all my new bosses in one place and the same questions "where are you from etc etc" but a nice evening is had and a good chance to meet the key people I will work for. October becomes November and then December I now have my office and 60% of the team has been identified the kitchen are coming together and im feeling more upbeat about the project, so I think is Ania, she took a long time to settle but is happier and has some friends she can talk to here. So Christmas is here and we book to go to Mombasa, a tropical paradise 7 hours drive away a major adventure for us, we book a place right on the beach with its own pool really stunning and Christmas Eve comes and we head away at 6am for the start, Ania and I had talked about getting engaged so I had got a ring made which she sort of knew about for the design and sizing but doesn't realsie the when and how, but I have got the engagement ring and have us booked on a Dhow an old Arabian sailing boat which will take us around, dolphin watching, snorkel on a coral reef then lunch on a small island in the Indian ocean where they have a special place private and a table set right on the sea for lunch and I can pop the question, Christmas Eve is spent at a famous haunt here in Kenya "Forty Thieves Bar" the owner is an ex-pat George Barbour and he has a restaurant in a cave with an open roof to the stars which we are booked into later, the place is called Ali Barbours and the beach bar as I said is Forty Thieves, Get it Ali Baba and the Forth Thieves??"¦"¦"¦"¦anyway right on the beach drinking cold ones and watching the white sands and turquoise sea, a real treat thinking how a chefs Christmas is in Europe I cant help but feel lucky, Dinner in the restaurant is nice fresh lobster and king prawns, not all bad. Christmas Day we have booked in for a Dinner buffet at Diani Reef a lovely hotel again on the beach, we spend Christmas Day in the pool!! And later walk along the beach and have a few drinks and call back home to wish them all a Merry Christmas again all very surreal as it was so cold there yet im sitting in a bar in surf shorts and flip flops in the 38 degree heat, in the afternoon we drive into Mombasa town, to see the spice markets where I buy some saffronthreads, tomato powder and some powdered saffron to play with back home, a quick visit to the Famous Fort Jesus and back to our place to change for dinner Now some of the chefs I had employed are working at Diani Reef and also nearby, so we turn up for dinner to see some of them at the dinner on of them says the GM has found out im here and wants to come to our table and ask me why I have poached his staff!!!! Oh well let him come I didn't poach anyone they all applied anyway he doesn't and the chefs really look after their "˜new boss' and his wife! Its easier to say wife here as its more understood than girlfriend, I later meet one of my soon to be Sous Chefs who joins us for a beer, a really nice evening but again very different to the UK way of life. Boxing Day comes and we board the boat and go on the tour and see the dolphins, Ania actually cant swim but wants to go snorkeling so the guys on the boat and me take her in with a ring and she gets such a buzz from watching the coral and tropical fish and doesn't stop talking about it for weeks after, we head for lunch to the Island where everything is laid out so so well, a more stunning venue I couldn't have found, right on the shore in a palmed terrace overlooking the sun and Indian ocean we have great crab and chicken then Swahili style fish, then I get ready down on one knee in my shorts and flip flops and say the words"¦"¦"¦"¦"¦"¦"¦"¦"¦"¦"¦ Her reply?? Well you will have to wait"¦"¦"¦"¦"¦"¦"¦.. Kevin Barron Executive Chef | Ole Sereni Hotel Nairobi | KENYA Kevins Blog http://anafricookingadventure.blogspot.com/

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th January 2011

Sa-far-i-way from home by Kevin Barron Part 2 Executive Chef Ole Sereni Hotel Kenya