Chef Les: “Food is better than an orgasm”

Kitchen Confidential: a miniseries about Kenyan chefs in Kenyan kitchens

I worked on a cruise ship for eight and half months. It was called Celebrity Solstice. 2,800 guests, 1,600 crew, 14 levels, 17 destinations. It was 2016. I was 24. It’s one of those things you experience and never again. I remember when they extended my contract by two weeks, I was mad.

Given the chance, I’d cook for The Pope goat. I’d take the hardest part of the goat, slow cook it for hours, braise it. I don’t know what I’d cook for Queen Elizabeth. I’d cook for President Uhuru his favourite meal.

I interned in an Italian restaurant called Pomodoro. It was my first experience in a professional kitchen, I was there for three months. I learned so much about Italian food and bread. Pomodoro is at The Village Market, it’s owned by an Italian couple, Fausto and Lorenza. Italians are as passionate about food as Indians are. I went to Pomodoro because I wanted to find out if this is really what I wanted to do for the foreseeable – rather, unforeseeable – future. And it was – I wanted to do nothing else but cook.

The best dish I’ve had in a long time is Chef Rahul’s dim sum. Chef Rahul is the executive chef at Pan-Asian Yao, it’s part of the Good Earth Group Nyama Mama is. Pan-Asian Yao is in Gigiri. Dim sum has mushrooms and herbs. I’ve eaten dim sum before but not like this. It had parsley and some thyme in there, no there wasn’t any thyme. I didn’t tell him, ‘This is the best shit I’ve ever had’. Hahaa. No no. We drank to it. I had a whiskey, Johnny Black, on the rocks, because there’s no other way to have whiskey. He had a beer, a White Cap, he always has White Cap.

All my siblings are in the arts. One of my two sisters teaches music, my bro is in film. Our parents were always supportive of our pursuits, as long as you weren’t wasting your time or theirs. Like, don’t start this then drop it to get into something else.

I knew I wanted to cook from when I was five. My dad was a chef before he got into finance. That was back in… I want to say 1975? He worked at The Stanley, didn’t want people to know he was a chef. I was told it was so bad that if he had a guest at the hotel, even if it was for two minutes, he’d change into his regular clothes, see the guest then change back into his chef clothes and return to the kitchen. My mum was a stay-at-home mum.

School for me was difficult and a waste of time. First, I can’t sit still and focus for more than a few hours. I remember sitting in double chem class and wondering what a waste of time it was, like why couldn’t we learn culinary instead? If I was taken to the kitchen and shown what chemistry is when water boils, I’d have paid more attention.

I enjoy whiskey, wine, food and coffee. Because they each have such strong distinct flavours.

I usually go to bed at 1 a.m. When I leave here after dinner service at 11, 11.30, I want a few hours to myself, to relax and unwind and savour my thoughts. Think about my life. Last night I was thinking about how vast the universe is. Last week Tuesday, after the Riverside attack, I thought about how short life is. I have a friend who works there. She’d called me that morning but I didn’t pick up. She didn’t text. But I knew I’d call her back later. When I heard about the attack and I called her, and she didn’t pick up… [Exhales] She called me back at 9 p.m. to tell me they’d been evacuated. I regretted not calling her back earlier. I’m still regretful until this moment.

If I hadn’t become a chef I’d have been a motor cross rider.

After Utalii and baking for a few months, I got into Top Chefs Culinary Institute. Oh no no, it’s not in New York, it’s hapa Westlands, on Muthithi Road. The school got me internship at the Fairmont in 2011. After Fairmont, I worked at The Tribe, then Sankara in 2014, then the cruise ship in 2015 then came to Nyama Mama in 2016. I’ve been here the longest because the owners – Ninaa and Jay Shanghavi – have challenged me to learn more about how to experience our Kenyan food culture.

I love the kitchen because I’m always solving a problem.

I bite all my fingernails like they’re a snack.

Locals where I’d eat to experience the Kenyan cuisine? Hmm. I’d go to Njuguna’s on Waiyaki Way, because it’s been there for a long time. And the Pork Centre in Ruiru. And Crave Kitchen in Kikuyu, that guy is doing crazy things with food. I also like Hashmi’s BBQ at Diamond Plaza.

If I were in death row and I’d have one last meal, I don’t know what it’d be. I’ve never thought about it… No one has ever asked me these questions. You should have sent me some of these questions I think about them.

I have a growing tattoo on my right arm. I have the ace of spades, because it’s the most powerful card on the deck. I have orchids, they’re beautiful flowers and with the most variety, there are about 140 different varieties. Then I have a tribal tattoo that runs across my chest and collarbone and down my arm, I like it because it’s an expression of art and unique to me. Then there’s one of a lion. I like the lion, it’s a national symbol that represents Kenya. And it’s a fierce creature, I have the word ‘fierceness’ written down here somewhere.

Food isn’t like an orgasm, it’s better. An orgasm will last for this long [index fingers on the edge of the table, an inch apart] and you’ll forget it. Food gives you the same feeling but you’ll never forget it, food leaves you with a memory.

I saved up enough money from Pomodoro to take myself to Utalii [College]. I wanted to learn how to bake. And I baked. But I didn’t like it. Decorating a cake is delicate; you need to be patient and focus for more than two hours. The exhaustion by the time you’re done just beats the whole experience.

My favourite chefs from ‘Chef’s Table’ (Netflix series) is Rene [Redzepi] and that Brazilian chef, Alex [Atala]. I don’t think any chef from Kenya would feature on the show. Our food culture is zero. Zero! It’s embarrassing that we know more about Italian or French cuisine than we know about Kenyan cuisine. Something needs to change.

Executive chef is just a title, really. I’ll always be a commis chef because I’m always cooking.

There’re chapos I ate when I was about five, six years old, I’ve never forgotten them. They scarred me. Hahaa. My neighbour had made them, they were hot from the pan, fried with yellow Cowboy oil, she’d wrap them in this cloth. Then when she was finished she’d take them all, the whole bunch, and knock down the edges like this. Aah man, so they’d become soft and fluffy… those chapos scarred me for life. I’ve not eaten chapos better than those. That’s probably why I don’t like chapos anymore.

I grew up in Eastleigh in a large family. I grew up to a lot of street food, especially during Ramadhan and the women would cook kaimati, bhajia, kebabs, vitunguua… I also grew up to fast food like Steers and Wimpy. My dad was from Narok and my mum Kirinyaga. I didn’t drink blood and milk, hahha, and I don’t feel that I missed out culturally on that food. What I’d like to do now that I understand food and the profile of flavours, is translate that traditional culture into modern cooking.

I wish in school they’d taught us more of culinary arts. And music. Art and craft. Agriculture, I liked agriculture in high school. They should also teach us more history of Kenya, history is very important.

I had the same barber since birth to 2015, when Karisa became my new barber. There was no reason why I switched barbers, it was just about time. Karisa’s barbershop is in town, at the corner of Wabera and Standard Street. Hamilton House, you can’t miss it. For 10 years I’ve had my barber shave these three lines in the back of my head.

I still have those moments where I ask myself what the hell I’m doing in the kitchen. It still happens every day. But I love the thrill. And I love the kitchen because I’m always solving a problem. Our guests have trusted me to prepare their food for them, I want nothing less but a perfect service.

All photos are by Mburu Kinuthia, of Nyuso za Nairobi, for Craft It. Image copyrights apply. None of these photos can be used elsewhere without the express permission of Craft It.

Kitchen confidential
Shabba Ranks

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Florence Bett-Kinyatti


Columnist Saturday Nation Writer Craft It Author of best-selling ‘SHOULD I?’ and ‘HOW MUCH?’ ~ Guiding word: Overdrive Subscribe to our Newsletter👇🏾
  • Dear God, 
It’s me again.

I don’t pray as often as I need to, You know that. I don’t kneel by my bed in child-like humility, as Muna does. I don’t whisper a prayer in the morning. Or at noon. Perhaps just in the evening. 

This going-to-church habit is a constant false start. So is reading the Word. 

I’m often guilty but I also know: You and I have a language only we can understand. 

I speak to You through this gift You bestowed upon my Kale shoulders, this gift to write in colour. It’s a gift that sometimes feels like a curse, a burden I have no choice but to pursue. 

Yet other times – most times, actually – it’s the very breath of my essence. Everyday I sit to write, when the words flow from my head and heart through my fingers to the page, I feel You next to me. 

You are here, Lord. Hovering. Lingering. Swooshing about in Your regal robes, like a character from Bridgerton.

Sometimes You get so close I can feel You breathing on my neck and I’m like, ‘Err, God, do You mind, personal space?’

And You chuckle uncomfortably. ‘He-he, of course. Of course.’

I’m here to tell You, Thanks!

I hosted my first in-person event last March, Lord, thank You to all the lovely ladies who granted me their time and full attention. 

I’ve carried them in my heart since and every day, my prayer is that You bring them closer to the life of abundance they each seek. To their own version of wealth. 

I always call them by their name: Becky. Purity. Lindsay. Wangui. Naomi. Shiqow. Mercy. Liz. Winnie. Polly. Nduta. Lynet. 

And Mike. 

Dear Lord, I’m prepping for my next in-person event in June, Inshallah. 

Walk with me as I get there. 

Love always,

  • Highlights from our first-ever in person event hosted by Craft It and @financialfitbit 
Thanks to all the lovely ladies — and gent, hehe — who honoured us with the privilege of their time and attention. And colourful energy. It’s been weeks since and it’s only now that I’m coming down from the high. 

Thank YOU!

🎥 @mikemuthaka 

#craftit #author #MakeYourMoneyMatter #personalfinance #money
  • I am a woman.

I’m strong. I’m brilliant. I’m like a comet shooting across the sky, I’m so bright you have to put on shades to see me.

I’m almost 40, I’m almost fully realising myself as a woman and the power of womanhood I possess.

I’m so powerful that if KPLC connected me to the national grid, I’d power up this country and we’d never have another blackout.

Ho! Ho! Ho!


To recognize and celebrate International Women’s Day today, I’d like to recognize and celebrate eight women.

I have eight things to give away to each of these women:
a) Two tickets to my upcoming event on March 18 with @financialfitbit Theme is ‘Make your money matter’
b) Three autographed copies of my book ‘Should I?’
c) Three autographed copies of my other book ‘How Much?’

To participate:
1. Like this post
2. Tag women who deserve a win of either event ticket or book (tag as many women as you like)
3. Tell us what you’d like her to win and why she deserves the win
4. Make sure your tagged women follow @_craftit and @financialfitbit 

Here are the rules for the giveaway:
— One woman, one win
— Winners will be contacted via DM
— Giveaway closes at the end of this week, Inshallah, on Sunday 12 March
— Only open to people living in Kenya

All the best!

(Swipe right to see the women I’m celebrating.)

#craftit #internationalwomensday
  • My 2022 word of the year was Wholesome. 

Wholesome meant engaging in moderation and in pursuits that didn’t leave me feeling yucky.

An example: there’re weekend nights I’d go out then have too much to drink. On the drive home, I’d tell GB to stop the car every half mile so I could throw up on the side of the road. Then I’d take three working days recovering. 


No more of that nonsense.

Now I have only two doubles of Singleton whiskey and chase it with water. I eat less food and I eat better. I take my supplements. I treat myself to an early bedtime and arise with my body clock, no alarm.

I spend a lot more time hanging with my kids, Muna and Njeeh. 

I buy fewer things. 

I play the piano. 

I created a disciplined routine for my work and take Thursdays off. 

You catch my drift…

Wholesome has become my lifestyle. 

(By the way, I was asked, ‘Where does this word-of-the-year come from, Bett?’ I don’t know about other people but for me, the words present themselves when I’m journaling. My spirit tells me what it needs; I must be still enough to listen and brave enough to obey.)

My word for 2023 is Overdrive.

My two books have unlocked new opportunities for me as a writer and creative. As an urban brand. I’d honestly not foreseen them. 

I know that if I adjust my sails to where the wind is blowing, these opportunities will translate to wealth.

Last Friday, I listed all the work I’m already doing and all the new opportunities – potential and realised – knocking at my door.

I asked myself, ‘What am I taking up here and what am I dropping?’

The response, ‘None – we go into overdrive and smartly pursue them all.’

#craftit #urbanguide
  • Years ago, my best friend said to me, ‘Bett, we’re almost 40 – forget makeup, let’s take care of our skin instead.’

I had to laugh because this was coming from Terry. Terry my Kisii pal, this fine gyal with skin the colour of honey, the only practising SDA in my circle. 

Terry had spent her 20s and early 30s sleek with Arimis. That’s right, the milking jelly with a lactating cow on its logo. 

Arimis addressed all her skin pickles back then. It was her problem fixer. Her Olivia Pope. It’s the one thing that always said, It’s handled.

Now here she was preaching to us about a consistent skincare regimen in the AM and PM.


It wasn’t until Terry shared her selfies on our girls WhatsApp group that I stopped laughing. It wasn’t until we stood next her – and took these selfies – that I reeally stopped laughing: Terry’s skin was youthful and toned, plump. Hydrated. Moistured but not shiny. 

It looked like it had been kissed by the Greek goddess of radiance. 

So we gathered around her feet and said, ‘Forgive us, master. We are ready now. Teach us everything you know.’

She did. 

Terry and I now spend plenty of time before work and before bed squeezing out little portions of expensive skincare products from expensive tubes, we layer them on our face in a calculated measure.

This serum here is for the circles under my eyes and the fine lines around my mouth.

Turns out I’ve been giving away too much of my face: I’ve been looking too hard, laughing too easily.

I’ll have to spend the next year into my 40s with my eyes half shut and laughing little. I'll have a resting bitch face.

Don’t blame me, blame the retinol.

And age.

#craftit #urbanguide #urbangirl
  • I’m Bett. I’m the author of your favourite books about money. I’m hosting an in-person event in March, Inshallah: This is my personal invite to you.

#craftit #moneymaker #moneyinkenya
  • I am hosting my first money event this March, Inhsallah. It’s the first of quarterly events I have planned for the year. 

(Give me a moment here so I pull myself together long enough to write this. I’m smiling very hard right now, ha-ha, I look like a donkey.)


The event will be in-person. On a Saturday morning, a loose three hours which, I am certain, you’d have burned on some other pursuit you couldn’t account for later. (I’d probably be oiling the hinges of a squeaky door or decluttering my sock drawer.)

My guest host for this edition is Lynet Kyalo. 

Lynet is a personal finance coach under her brand @financialfitbit She also hosts @getyourbagrightpodcast 

Buy your tickets from our Market.

Early bird tickets are discounted until the end of this month.

Limited slots available. 

#craftit #millenialmoney #moneyevent #moneymaker
  • Sometimes I sit down and read my own book. 

Odd, huh?

Reading my own stories is like an out-of-body experience. Or getting introduced to myself again. An outward journey inward.

It’s fascinating.

I also read because I need to improve my writing for my next project.

We call them the Elements of Craft: things like sentence structure and punctuation, word placement, story length etc, they all inform your reading experience.

This is what makes the book easy to read, and has you turning the pages.

Cop your autographed copy and #betteryourmoney 

#craftit #howmuch #millenialmoney #moneymaker