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Chef John Edison Maina, Head Chef at Mahali Mzuri

When did you discover your passion for cooking?

I am originally from the foothills of Mount Kenya and found a passion for cooking at a tender age. While growing up, my uncle was a big inspiration for me; he used to work in the kitchen at the Norfolk Hotel and was an excellent cook.

Where did you  train?

I started my culinary training as soon as I finished secondary school. I went straight into an in-house training role at Fairmont Hotels and completed my training at Utalii College. I have attended refresher-training courses at Utalii College over the years.

What was your first job and how did you become  head chef?

In 1999, I joined the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, where I trained for two years on a rotational basis. I emerged as one of the leading trainees and, armed with a certificate and recommendation from Chef Eamon Mullan, I was ready to take on the culinary world!

I went on to work at leading restaurants and hotels including Oharro Lodges in Kenya and Devatara Beach Hotel in the Seychelles. I joined the Mahali Mzuri team as head chef in 2016.

What would you like to change in restaurants?

Although I really enjoy taking inspiration from different cultures and cuisines, I would like to see a bigger emphasis on promoting authentic Kenyan dishes in restaurants. One of my favourite dishes at Mahali Mzuri is our traditional Swahili coconut flavoured vegetable curry which we serve with cumin basmati rice, chapatti and tzatziki, coconut chutney and kachumbari salsa. It showcases local produce and cooking styles and is popular with our guests.

Which ingredient is a must use?

I can’t cook without garlic, turmeric and herbs. Most of my favourite herbs, including rosemary and mint, are grown in our on-site eco-garden, which we started two years ago to grow fresh, organic ingredients to use in our kitchens. Our Sous Chef, Jacob, has more than doubled our yield since he started managing the crops!    Meals are a family affair here and are often served around a large table so our guests can share stories and sightings of the day.

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