My friend and I were recently at Hotel InterContinental’s Bhandini restaurant where we had an interview meet up with the head chef Mr. Jitendra Prasat, a pleasant down to earth guy who fed us to our fill, made us feel at home, and explained Indian cuisine to us until we felt like we were pros. Bhandini means togetherness. This is what the chef had to say:
How long have you been a chef?
I’ve been a chef for 25 years, having worked in Kenya and India.
Have you worked in other hotels in Kenya other than Intercon?
Yes, I worked in Dawaat restaurant in Westlands, which has since been closed.
What would you have become if you were not a chef?
I’d be in the army. I had once wanted to be in the army.
What drew you to the culinary world?
Growing up looking up at mother and grandma built my passion to become a chef. I helped my grandma a lot around the kitchen and learnt valuable lessons from her.
Who are the most memorable guests you have prepared meals for here at Intercon?
I’ve cooked for Hillary Clinton who was very affable and charming, Angela Merkel who was also very down to earth and friendly, and a lot of other international guests. The Indian Embassy sends a lot of visiting dignitaries our way too whenever they come calling.
How do you ensure that you grow professionally and stay on top of culinary trends?
I look out for reviews and ask questions about the food from clients. The feedback I get is crucial to affirm that my food is of constantly good standard. I also check for new recipes online.
How do you ensure safety of your food and the kitchen in general?
We make sure that we use fresh ingredients all the time. For all the food we make for every meal, we take a 20gm sample and keep it refrigerated for upto 14 days. If within 72 hours of eating there’s a complaint however, we send the samples to the government chemist for laboratory tests. Thankfully we do not have food poisoning cases here.
We also get safety lessons every week and we always work in shoes make especially for kitchen safety.
What is the most exotic food you ever made?
I’ve tried my hand at Chinese cuisine.
What’s your favourite meal to prepare for yourself and family and why?
I don’t often cook at home but when I do, I like to make chicken or mutton, mushroom, lentils, rice and rotti. I only cook once or twice a month at home.
How can you compare the Kenyan food culture with that of other countries you’ve been to?
Kenyan food is cheap to cook, as compared to other foods especially Indian which has a lot of ingredients which makes it expensive.
Do you get a good percentage of required ingredients locally or do you have to import?
Most of my supplies I buy locally but I also have a local Indian supplier for specific Indian ingredients.
What’s your favourite Kenyan meal?
I like ugali and Sukuma wiki. Nyama choma either mutton or chicken as well.
Have you ever thought of starting a reality show in Kenya?
What do you do to unwind?
I go out dancing, spend time with family and watch sports.
What do you personally look out for when you eat out in other restaurants?
The food, service and quality. Eating out is a learning experience for me as I get to know what other people are doing different and how they’re doing it.
Other than the usual oils and onions etc, what in your opinion are the 5 must have ingredients in any kitchen?
Garam masala, garlic, ginger, fresh coriander and chillis.
Thank you for this sumptuous meal that you’ve laid out for us. What is it?
I’ve prepared for you kashmir rice, tandoori lamb-chops, zafrani murg tikka, methi naan, Chicken tikka lababdar, tomato saffron and cream flavoured source, mango chutney, very hot chilli sauce, tamarind sauce, mint sauce and mango lassi.