While most of his peers in Mombasa were busy engaging in vices, he was determined to stay in the clear and narrow, and to that end, enrolled as a football player in Kisauni. Since making money from sports in Kenya is more of a toss-up than anything, he decided to start working at a hotel, Diani Sea Resort. This is the story of Sous Chef Francis Matano.
The chef would work his way up from kitchen steward to the capable renowned chef he is today. He even owns a seafood restaurant in Diani known as Bidi Badu. We learn this as we cook beef stir-fry at Clouds Restaurant, which is at the rooftop of Gelian Hotel in Machakos. We are all riveted by the once young determined gentleman, who crafted the future he desired.
It comes as no surprise that he can craft any dish you wish, be it continental or French. He, however, loves cooking seafood, in no small part due to his Coastal upbringing.
Being self-declared novice chefs, my colleague and I are more than glad to learn that making a mean beef stir-fry does not have to be a mean feat. With the beef boiled and diced before hand, this dish can be ready in a record 10 minutes.
You no longer have a reason to buy take out. After dicing all the ingredients, the chef warms a pan on the fire to ensure that it is completely dry. He then pours in some olive oil and lets it warm. He sautés some ginger in the oil till golden brown.
He proceeds to add onions, which cook for a while, before adding carrots and the boiled beef chunks, as we try to recall the names of the hills he had just told us about. Turns out they are Kathyani Hills and Kiima Kimwe.
You have to say the names complete with a Kamba accent, or not say them at all. Chef Matano then adds some leeks, celery and sweet peppers, before putting in some more olive oil, soy sauce and sesame oil, which the dish will simmer in for about five minutes. We use the five minutes to pry some more into the chef’s life, and to learn if seafood, specifically pweza, is worth all the hype it gets.
He seems uncomfortable; afraid of giving creatives the ‘too candid’ rap we let up, and willingly sit on the hot seat to tell him all about our lives. We know all about reciprocity, you see.
Once the five minutes have elapsed, we, read Chef Matano, season the food to taste and serve it with Risi e Bisi rice. He garnishes the dish beautifully, and with edible garnishes too. The beef stir-fry is a marvel of flavours, with the sweet peppers lending leafy sweetness to the leeks’ oniony taste.
The chef clearly poured his 20-plus years of experience into this. I eat for the next hour or so as conversation and food ebbs around me. The Machakos sun soon leaves and with darkness, comes the fear of getting the recipe and botching the memory of this sumptuous stir-fry. But, we are not given a spirit of fear. No. We shall try the recipe, still.
Boiled beef that has been diced
Julienne of carrots, leeks and onions
Chopped ginger, celery and sweet peppers
Warm a pan over low heat before adding olive oil.
Once the oil is hot, add ginger and sauté till golden brown.
Add onions, cook for a while then add carrots.
Add the beef chunks, the celery, the chopped sweet peppers and the leeks.
Pour in a small amount of soy sauce, sesame oil and olive oil again.
Cover and simmer for five minutes.
Add salt to taste.
Serve with pasta or rice.