Vegetable tamu for the health freak
By Nailantei Norari Photos: Paul Ace
“I have always loved cooking. I think my interest was especially piqued by watching food being flambéed on television,” Chef Charles Mbugua tells us with a chuckle. He is the executive chef at Marble Arch Hotel, located behind Fire Station in the CBD in Nairobi. The tall yet soft spoken man has 28 years’ worth of culinary experience under his belt, or his chef’s hat as the more appropriate idiom might be. He has an illustrious career that has seen him traverse the country, studying and mastering different culinary skills ranging from Portuguese cuisine, to Italian, to Chinese dishes. He has honed down the art of crafting restaurant menus to a science. He is a big advocate of healthy eating and offers to teach us to make one of the restaurant’s bestseller, vegetable tamu, a dish he helped create and put on the menu.
“People shy away from healthy eating because they believe it is not as sumptuous as fast food. But this is far from the truth. Here at Marble Arch, we want to encourage people to eat healthy by serving them nutritious yet tasty meals,” he explains as we prepare the vegetables.
We start off by blanching them, beginning with those that take a longer time to cook such as potato cubes, slowly adding the rest.
“Blanching vegetables is very important. Not only does it cleanse them from any dirt you may have missed when washing, it also retards the loss of vitamins, ensuring the vitamins are locked in even if you do any further cooking,” Chef Mbugua, who also happens to be a football enthusiast expounds.
After blanching the vegetables, we fry them. The chef then plates the dish and serves it with brown chapati.
I try the dish as Paul, the photographer I am with, is a devout fast food convert. It is tastier than I expected. As I wolf it down, Mbugua tells me of his favourite meal kimanga, which is mukimo made with ngwaci, nduma, carrots and spinach, and not just the usual potatoes. It is also served at the restaurant. He also tells me of his pride and the apple of his eye, his son, who is also a chef. We talk about capacity building as well, and the importance of having a healthy work-life balance.
“Being a chef is a job that is arduous. You have to be prepared to work long hours. It is also very rewarding as you get to see firsthand how your work affects people in the reactions and the reception with which people treat your food. I think it is important to decide to come into this with a clear head, find a mentor and get ready to work. Just give the job your all while remembering to prioritise what is important like family,” he advises. “It all sounds like a tall order, but it is doable.”