Leaving French and Italian for East African Cuisine

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How much does the world really know about East African cuisine? According to Chef Pius Muigana, not much. Chef Muigana, Executive Chef of Savannah Barbecue in Muscat, Oman, steered away from his former specialisations, French and Italian cuisines, to pursue the culinary arts of his motherland, East Africa.

Today, he shares his story.

 

The Start of a Career

I was introduced to the industry by my big brother, who is also an executive chef in the UK. Whenever he was at home for his vacation, he would speak highly of the career. He would polish it up with fancy names: bouget garni, mise en place, entremetier, garde manger, and so on.

I really enjoyed listening to him as he elaborated the meaning of these culinary terms. It got me curious to find out what they really meant when practically applied. Two years later, I graduated from high school and joined him as an apprentice.

When I joined the industry, I came to realize something. Food wasn’t just food as we perceive it back home. There is more to it than just cooking and eating. Some have a history behind them.

I started to get interested in the various cuisines. I worked with Executive chefs from different nationalities. French, Italian, Scottish, South African, Arabic among others. Soon, I took up the specialisation in French and Italian dishes.

 

Being awarded best fine dining chef by the chairman of Kenya Tourism Board during the Chefs Delight Awards

Being awarded best fine dining chef by the chairman of Kenya Tourism Board during the Chefs Delight Awards

Ending Up in Oman

It’s funny how I ended up in Oman. My current Managing Director sent me a contact request in LinkedIn, which I accepted. Two days later, he sent me a message with a proposal for an Executive Chef offer in Oman for a project he was working on.

He gave me an orientation of what he had in mind. His concept was East African cuisine in a casual/ fine dining mode with five-star standards. So here I am.

This did mean I changed my specialty from international to East African cuisine. I did so simply to challenge myself. Being in the kitchen for twenty years becomes monotonous at times. So why not take a risk and venture out into the unknown?

 

The Role of Dining Establishments for East African Cuisine

East African cuisine is not fancied by many people. Dishes that are out there are mostly street food, not casual dining. But this shouldn’t be the case. People need to know that East African cuisine is just as fascinating as any other. There is a rich history behind each dish.

There is another reason people do not really know the authentic taste of East African cuisine. East African households, in general, don’t give too much attention to the spices.  East African cuisine is very tasty. it is rich in spices, such as cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, fenugreek, cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, tamarind, green mangoes, and more. But most households change or supplement the ingredients to make things simpler.

Here is where dining establishments come in. They provide a great opportunity to experience the authentic taste of East African cuisine. A common Nyama Choma dish, for instance, can be cooked only with salt, black pepper, oil, ginger and garlic. But dining establishments may use tamarind, cumin, fennel seeds, and lemon juice to bring out the taste even more.

 

East African Cuisine for the World

Preparing East African cuisine in a foreign country means a lot to me. It is a chance to showcase East African cuisine to the rest of the world. People from all over the world come here. We are able to make them learn, eat, and also understand our culture through East African cuisine.

There is a sense of belonging at play, too. In many ways, East African cuisine is comparable to Omani cuisine. Both are rich in spices and have common ingredients. This is true because many Oman locals have their roots back in East Africa. They even speak Swahili, which is the language spoken all over the East African region.

Those who have never tried East African cuisine have no idea what they are missing. If you ever find yourself in Oman, find Savannah BBQ at Panorama Mall, Muscat.

We promise this will be your second home.