Behold The Food Man Of Southern Sun Hotel
THERE is no sincerer love than the love of food. That was what George Bernard Shaw said many years ago. But the man who lives this statement is Alex Mwaura, the Executive Chef of Southern Sun Ikoyi Hotel, Lagos.
For Mwaura, good food matters. And cooking food is not just boiling of assorted digestible. It is an art; a culinary art of colour and taste. And food is no mere edible substance; it is a gastronomic pleasure that produces enduring memories.
“Food is beautiful on its own. We don’t have to use colouring or dummy to make it look good in photograph,” he said to a photographer who raised question about food styling for great photo effect. His message is unmistaken: In a true republic of art, good food certainly will have a place. This lofty perspective about food does not come to the mind untrained. It is the stuff of the grand-master chef. And that is what Mwaura has become after spending many years in the kitchen of great hotels including Southern Sun Ikoyi Hotel.
For the past 15 years, Mwaura has been an executive chef in branded hotels located in various countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Dubai and now Nigeria. “I’ve been with Southern Sun for nine years,” he disclosed.
Thanks to Utali College Kenya where he earlier honed his culinary skill. ‘Utali’ which means ‘tourism’ in Swahili is one of the oldest and the best hospitality schools in Africa. Little wonder it is regarded as “Fountain of Hospitality”. It is no accident therefore that the chief chef at Southern Sun has led his hotel to win several trophies such as Nigerian Hospitality Excellence Award in 2010, West African Tourism & Hospitality Awards, 2010 and 2011, Southern Sun Group Award in 2011 and International Hotel Award in Collaboration With Bloomberg TV 2011among others. In August 2011, Mwaura led a team of his chefs to the Bidvest World Cooks Tour Against Hunger, where they were the only hotel representing Nigeria.
What does the Southern Sun Ikoyi do differently to receive multiple awards within two years? What makes the hotel the leader of the pack within the Tsogo Sun hotel group? “It is consistency,” Mwaura replied promptly. “Our guests keep coming because we make good food consistently.” On Sundays alone, Southern Sun Ikoyi restaurant fetes not fewer than 200 during Sunday Brunch hours. And many diners visit on Sundays to experience new menu on offer. Chicken Atete, the hotel’s signature dish is a rare find even among the Southern Sun hotels elsewhere.
“We took deep rooted researches on authentic Nigerian cuisines from various angles and experiment with our findings. We have also taken initiative to educate our guests on good, safe and healthy meals by introducing one healthy dish on the buffet at every meal,” Mwaura said during an interview with journalists.” It is this knowledge of the Nigerian cuisine and special attention to guests’ need that turns Southern Sun hotel into a colony of diners on Sundays.
Today Southern Sun Hotel is one of the first ports of call for tourists in Lagos. In its recent result of grading and classification of hotels and hospitality establishments, Lagos state government rated Southern Sun Ikoyi as four star hotel. And Mwaura’s contribution is key to this achievement. “When I got here, I said we’re going to have a hotel with a standard food culture and today, I can proudly tell you that we’re one of the best eating points in the city. The notion that the kitchen is the backbone of every hotel drives us to achieve more, because we know that food and beverage is the window to the world,” he said.
In his white dress, Mwaura could be mistaken for a doctor. But to Mwaura, it doesn’t make much difference whether he is a doctor or a chef.
“Chefs are well respected in Kenya. When you say ‘I’m a chef in Kenya,’ it’s just like saying ‘I’m a doctor’ in Nigeria here.”
Mwaura’s analogy strikes an interesting parallel between the calling of a doctor and a chef. While one cures infirmity; the other cures hunger. Essentially, both are callings that seek the well-being of man. In fact, in the hierarchy of health providers, a chef might even come first if one goes by the dictum of Hipocratic, the father of medicine who said “let food be your medicine, and medicine your food”. And truly for Mwaura and his team, food is no food except it nourishes and provides good health. “The backbone of every hotel is food,” he said. “You can have a very good hotel, very good rooms, but if you are hungry or you don’t get the right food, you never feel comfortable in that room regardless of the luxury in the room”.
And according to Mwaura, the food should not only be good, it should be healthy. That is the reason why the chefs at Southern Sun Ikoyi also take care of the risk factor associated with rich meals. “We have taken initiative to educate the public and colleagues on good, safe and healthy meals by inculcating one healthy dish on the buffet at every meal”.
At Southern Sun Ikoyi, staff training is important and regular because there is no proper hospitality training in Nigeria, he added.