I’m in Tanga. (Virtually, at least) Standing outside an ominous door. Inside resides fear. And a special breed of horror. Until I tell you about this soon, I will leave you in the good hands of our resident foodie, Sophie Gitonga, today.
By Sophie Gitonga, Resident Foodie
This is it.
It’s D-Day; time to put your game face on. You are closing this deal today and you are going to get Mr. CEO to float his company on the stock exchange. You’ve been wooing him for a couple months now and he’s been pussyfooting around. He has required more effort from you than any skirt you have ever chased. Just recently, you skipped a trip to Vipingo to play golf with the boys, a trip you had orchestrated months in advance, so you could attend Mr. CEO’s daughter’s baptism. But this is why you are the star investment banker at your firm; they don’t call you the Closer for nothing.
You are sitting at the Exchange Bar at the Sarova Stanley Hotel waiting for your party of five to arrive. Two junior associates from your firm will be joining you, as will MR. CEO and his colleagues. You arrived early, you like to get to places early so you can acquaint yourself with bathrooms and exit routes, a bit of a compulsion that you have. Everyone finally arrives and you exchange pleasantries and handshakes.
The bespectacled Executive Chef comes out to meet you. You think him demure and reserved, nothing like the mercurial Gordon Ramsey from Hell’s Kitchen that you imagine all chefs to be. He serves up his virgin bloody Mary. “How biblical”, you quip, eliciting a smile from Godfrey and your guests. He is honored to be hosting you this afternoon; he has prepared a special menu that he hopes you will enjoy. He has personally overseen its preparation and will be at your exclusive service along with his wait staff.
He leads the party through a labyrinth of corridors to the kitchen and up a staircase to the Chef’s table. This room that was his office has been converted into a dining room, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the kitchen, the belly of the beast. The dining room sits atop a massive dish washer but you wouldn’t know it because you don’t feel any vibration. There are three framed photos of rooms within the Stanley and the beautifully dressed table is centered with carved fruit flower. You admire the kind of human who has the patience to carve fruit into art.
When you first walk into the room, you half expect to see Tony Soprano sitting at the head, staring pensively at his pistol as it rests next to his glass of Chianti. It’s the kind of room that mobsters would meet in, away from prying eyes, where they could talk business and plan hits over a plate of Sicilian eggplant parmesan. And you can see why Tony Soprano would like this room. It offers discretion and privacy and is surprisingly quaint. There’s a white hanging from the ceiling with the menu scribbled on it. You had the option of drawing up a special menu with the chef but you decided to give him creative license to come up with his own. After all, how wrong can you get with a guy who has cooked for presidents? You take your seat, yours next to your date, and the effusive waiter Martin, another one with State House credentials, comes by to unfurl napkins and lay them on your lap and pour the drinks. Mr. CEO asks for the red wine, Casillero del Diablo. You read something into this choice because you are always reading into things, another one of your compulsions. You order the white wine to start.
Martin wafts into the room with his first offering, lobster tail and crab roulade with tomato vodka jelly and caviar. Tomato vodka jelly and caviar, you are definitely intrigued. They appear on your plate as miniature portions that you could cut up with your credit card and inhale through your nose, if this was a different kind of party. There are a couple of leaves, petals and stems on your plate too which you decide are garnishes and don’t eat. And just like that, it’s over as soon as you began, a quickie opener and then comes the next course, the broccoli and apple veloute. You have gathered by now that everything is going to be in French so you’ll have to wait to see it to figure out what it is. This one is soup, with the littlest head of broccoli and cubed apple at the bottom of the soup bowl. The detail is touching, cute even. The apple adds a little tartness to the soup that you like. Mr. CEO seems to be enjoying himself; you inquire about his daughter, the one whose baptism you attended.
“She’s become precocious,” he says, “it’s like the holy waters washed off all traces of my little girl and revealing this young maiden. I’m suddenly worried about the internet and whether I’d be violating her civil liberties if I forbade her from dating until she was 35”.
“That doesn’t seem unreasonable”, you say. You don’t have kids but you believe if you had a daughter, you’d have her locked up in Rapunzel’s tower with only a Nokia 3310.
The soup is just landing in your stomach when the next entrée arrives; salmon ceviche with a saffron dressing and supreme of chicken with asparagus and truffle beurre blanc. Again, enough words to fill a plate buffet style but don’t be fooled by all the verbiage. These plates are dressed to grab your attention in such a way that you first eat with your eyes and then your mouth. The dangerously red saffron dressing smeared on one end and the salmon placed on it, the freshly decapitated head of asparagus lying there submissively and the chicken generously doused in the truffle sauce looks more like a pale potato mound than chicken. One bite of the salmon and you realize that its texture gives you the impression that it’s mostly raw so you give it a wide berth; it probably ‘cooked’ from the heat radiating off the chicken sitting next to it. Not your kind of thing.
The next item is a bit of a surprise, tamarind sorbet. Dessert pops up in the middle of the entrees. This one is Instagram worthy, the sorbet is served in an ice bowl. I point that out to Mr. CEO who credits me like it was my idea. The grilled fillet of beef with port braised basket mushroom puree is delish. It’s soft and intensely flavoured, like it wants to be remembered. It goes nicely with the red wine that you have now switched to. You’d take a picture of it but you feel slightly awkward in the present company.
You turn to Mr. CEO to discuss the business part of the lunch. He’s wary of the scrutiny that will come with listing his company. Scrutiny is not a bad thing you assure him in fact it has the direct benefit of increased accountability and compliance. This would also improve his company’s credit rating as well as supplier and investor confidence. All this and more you have discussed during the course of your courtship. He needs to nut up and make a decision. No you don’t say that to him though you wish he could. That kind of boldness you brandish in your office and with your boys.
We are down to the wire now. Martin pulls all the stops with closing desserts, iced berry panacotta with a spun sugar sculpture, for oohing and ahhing over, sticky toffee pudding served with lemongrass and coconut ice cream, petit fours and coffee. You feel a diabetic coma coming on. The sticky pudding does exactly what it says, sticks to the roof of your mouth like spoonful of peanut butter. You dare not speak while you have this thing in your mouth; it’s decadent and moist, like something forbidden. The petit fours are a sweet tooth’s dream, a terrible choice if you are just coming out of sugar rehab.
The coffee is simply what the doctor ordered and an abrupt end to the debauchery that was this feasting. You make a toast to Chef Godfrey and his crew; their hospitality is only second to the genuflecting Nyabos of Uganda. As you are settling the bill and getting ready to leave, Mr. CEO says he’ll call you tomorrow to discuss the next steps. He has nutted up! This now calls for a whisky round at the Exchange bar.
Ps: Sarova Stanley charges about Ksh. 10,000 per person to sit at the chef’s table for a meal. Go ahead, lock that deal there.