Kevin Barron is executive chef at the 134-bedroom Ole-Sereni hotel in Nairobi. He explains to Janet Harmer that, despite being robbed at gunpoint, he loves the challenge of his first job overseas
Can you give us a broad outline of your current position? I am executive chef at the Ole-Sereni hotel in Nairobi, which is situated alongside the National Game Park. I currently head a brigade of 45 chefs and together we cook for a 80-seat café-deli-style restaurant serving international food; a large banqueting operation (a suite for 500 and lawns for up to 800); and outside catering.
We shall soon be taking on another 10 chefs for the opening of a 45-seat fine-dining restaurant offering the sort of two- to three-rosette-standard food I was previously cooking in the UK. The menu will have modern and African influences and be completely new to Nairobi - we want to wow the city.
How did you get your job in Kenya? I found it through Caterer‘s website. After one telephone and two face-to-face interviews, I got the job.
What have been the highlights/lowlights of working in Kenya? Professionally, it has been setting up a really good team of chefs, training them to a good standard and seeing them produce good food. Personally, there's no question - it's been getting engaged to Ania on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean and the birth of our daughter.
The lowest point was definitely being robbed at gunpoint. Luckily I wasn't hurt, but it scared the life out of me.
What do you like about working in Kenya? The weather is pretty much always warm, the lifestyle is great, and we enjoy a view of the National Game Park from the hotel restaurant.
Is it difficult working in a country where there is a huge disparity between rich and poor? Yes, it can be massively hard. In fact, on Christmas day I made eight packed hot lunches and delivered them to some families I see by the roadside each day. It was only a small gesture, but I'm trying to help.
How does hospitality in Kenya differ from the UK? Training is very poor here and service standards are low, though they are getting better. The staff are still extremely poorly paid. However, that said, Kenyan hospitality can be great and the front-of-house staff are always smiling.
What could UK hospitality learn from Kenya? The smiling approach, without doubt. Too many restaurant and hotel staff in the UK seem miserable.
What is the produce like in Kenya? Some things we just cannot get, but that challenges us to think more creatively. There is some great fish from the Indian Ocean, lamb from Mount Kenya, and I've now got some of the best beef I've ever cooked after working with my supplier and explaining feeds, hanging times and cuts. The veg here is fantastic, although most of the fine beans go to the UK, and the pineapples are amazing.
Where else in the world would you like to work and why? I would consider India and the USA. We see a lot of Indian culture and food here due to the massive Indian community. The management company who run Ole- Sereni are Sarovar from India.
I have wanted to go back to the USA ever since I visited New York, where the food scene is fascinating and fast-moving.
Do you plan to return to work in the UK and, if so, how will you use your experience of working abroad? Yes, for sure. I think everything I have learnt here could be put in place back in the UK, particularly regarding attitude, respect and creativity.
Is there a large British community working in hospitality in Kenya, and do you liaise with each other? There are many expats from all over the world and we are forming a chefs' association to look at our collective issues and help solve them for the better.
CV: Kevin Barron
2008-present Executive chef, Ole-Sereni hotel, Nairobi, Kenya
â- 2006-08 Head chef, Whittlebury Hall Hotel and Spa, near Towcester, Northamptonshire
â- 2005-06 Head chef, the Pink Geranium, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire
â- 2000-05 Head chef/director of food and beverage, Painswick hotel, Painswick, Gloucestershire
â- 1999-2000 Sous chef, Lucknam Park hotel, Wiltshire
â- 1998-99 Head chef, Springs hotel, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
â- 1997-98 Head chef, Washbourne Court hotel, Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire
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