There is a huge smiling tea bag painted on the wall, as if to greet us. We proceed past some cutesy metallic chairs to enter an artsy space, where the walls are in warm colourful hues with beautiful paintings dotting them. Books occupy one corner while a ragged doll dressed in Ankara sits smack on the books. We are at 209 State House Road, right next to MGM studios at an eclectic eatery known as Lava Latte.
“We veer towards the sweet side of life,” Chef Michael James jokes. He has been cooking for over seven years now, and has been at Lava Latte since its inception, after being poached from Nyama Mama.
“I studied Bachelor of Commerce Finance, but I have always loved cooking and experimenting with food. I love cooking so much that at times, I can wake up in the middle of the night with a recipe in mind. I will jot it down and proceed to fine tune it,” he tells us.
With his experimental nature, it is no surprise that he holds a dinner club every other month. He says that hosting it is a good challenge, yet can be exhausting as all the plates have to look and taste the same. Moreover, it is a lot of pressure as the chefs have to prove their mettle to the diners.
He loves working with local ingredients and describes his food as fusion food; African food cooked using a combination of culinary styles.
Chef Michael is devoted to his work that when he leaves Lava Latte, he goes home to research further. He also enjoys singing in the Shofar choir almost as much as he does cooking.
“Shofar is a Hebrew word for trumpet. The trumpet was used to call people to worship, and this resonated with me so much that I joined the group. I really enjoy it,” he explains.
The chef decides to wow us with beef sliders served with potato wedges, as he tells us how finance and being a chef have an unlikely overlap. The joy of being a chef is in maximising the benefit that the client gets from your dish while keeping the costs low, much like doing accounts for a client.
“There is nothing more fulfilling than getting back clean plates from your clients after dinner,” he says with a chuckle.
We do polish off the beef sliders; for me the magic is in the Swahili sauce and caramelised onions. Feel free to test out his cooking next time you are on State House Road, I will vouch for the sliders, which are more mini burger than sliders.