Maybe it was the free-flowing Ciroc Vodka and Heineken Beer, or jamming with the house band at the after-party, or M.C. Fareed Kimani’s endless roasting and piss-take of anything that moves, but this year’s Taste Awards was one of the most happening events Nairobi has seen in a while. UP was honored (once again) to co-sponsor the People’s Choice awards.
We congratulate all the winners and especially the recipient of the ultimate prize, which couldn’t have gone to a more deserving chef: Marcus Mitchell of Talisman. This year I was on the judging panel, and one of the coolest things about being a Taste Awards umpire is hanging out with Nairobi’s glitterati and learning their deep, dark secrets (such as Susan Wong’s love of ‘food-gasms’). It’s amazing what you can learn about someone based on his or her answer to the question: “what would be your last meal on earth?” Take Chris Foot, for example. He’s the recently appointed head of the Kenya Film Commission.
His gallows meal tells us why he is perfect for this job: “scallops (hand collected by divers of course, not dredged!) pan-fried in butter/bacon lardoons/fresh sage with a glass of buttery chardonnay.” As you can see, this menu selection says, ‘quiet, understated sophistication, and an endearing love of all things rich and fleshy.’ These qualities will come in handy when promoting, for instance, “Nairobi Half-Life” at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Nothing can be spared when showcasing the best of Kenya to the world. I applaud his efforts. Then there’s Isis Nyongo, former head of Google East Africa and darling of the mobile advertising world.
She’s a real heavy weight and it shows in her massive engagement diamond. Her gallows meal complements her image as an ass-kicker that has climbed all the local corporate ladders: “Starter: Hummus with pita; Main: Moroccan Lamb Tagine, complete with apricots and chickpeas in the sauce on a bed of couscous served in traditional clay pots; Dessert: rhubarb strawberry pie.” And who can forget the indelible Suzie Wong. More than the namesake character of Richard Mason’s infamous pulp fiction novels, and the erstwhile Capital FM socialite columnist, Ms. Wong is a fresh, spunky breeze in a hot and stuffy room.
Wong’s ‘last meal’ shows us her love of simple, light and carefree things: “Southern Chinese street food: ‘Bo Jai Fan!’ (aka Little bowl of rice), cookedover an open flame, with ingredients like smoky and sweet Chinese sausage...finish off with a drizzle of sweetened soya sauce—comfort in a pot!” I am almost certain as a little girl she had posters of puppy dogs and horses with sayings like, “Dreams Come in Small Packages” hanging her room. Thank God for the Susans of this world.
Patrick Mwangi of Heineken was there. Here’s a classy guy that knows how to exude cool and calm. His meal is outsourced: “I would eat anything prepared by Joel Robuchon. Whatever he would place in front of me I wouldn't question because hell….it’s Joel! The man’s a genius!” Even if you don’t know who Joel is, it shows why Mwangi is successful at running events for the beer giant—a good producer is an even better delegator. Then there was the exalted Barry Tonks, the Michelin-star Executive Chef at Hemingways.
You would think with all his training comes a nose-up, gourmand elitist. Not so. Check out his last meal on earth: “Dry aged 21-day Rib-Eye ‘on the bone’…beautifully charred in a ‘Josper’ over the finest charcoals, béarnaise sauce ‘finished with veal glaze’ triple cooked ‘duck-fat’ chips, seasoned with Malden sea salt and pickling onion vinegar...and a bottle of Malbec.” So, basically that’s steak and chips, right? Right. That’s my man. I’m sure when no one is looking he tucks into fried baloney on white bread. I know I do.
Finally, that leaves me. Simple: Lamb shank in juniper berry sauce, blue-cheese mash potatoes and steamed broccoli sautéed in butter, thyme and lemon. No dessert. A whiskey to finish. If I could wear nothing but a cowboy hat and boots and
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