Celebrating the chef of chefs

Food & Drinks

Celebrating the chef of chefs


eamon

A photo of the late chef Eamon Mullan at his memorial at the Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club on March 11, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • When the Irishman’s passed on last month, the Kenyan culinary space suffered a telling blow.
  • Last week, family, friends, and acquaintances of the “chef of chefs” held a memorial service in his honor at Nairobi’s Windsor Country Club.
  • Whether by chance or design, whoever met this chef soon discovered where they wanted to spend the rest of their lives: in the kitchen.

The story of Chef Eamon Mullan and the tens of chefs he has mentored for more than 30 years is one of the master and the apprentice.

When the Irishman’s passed on last month, the Kenyan culinary space suffered a telling blow. Last week, family, friends, and acquaintances of the “chef of chefs” held a memorial service in his honor at Nairobi’s Windsor Country Club.

Speaker after speaker narrated how Mullan shaped their career and life, and the void of his departure. Whether by chance or design, whoever met this chef soon discovered where they wanted to spend the rest of their lives: in the kitchen.

To put Chef Eamon’s impact into perspective, nearly every executive chef in leading hotels and institutions in Kenya is a product of his mentorship. He shaped their cooking, career, and character.

Some like Joseph Macharia, the executive chef at Muthaiga Country Club, and Martin Nyaga, the executive chef at Riara Group of Schools, with Mullan as teenagers straight from school, clueless about the kitchen and life. Like a father figure, he would mold them to become some of the country’s best chefs.

joseph & martin

Muthaiga country club executive chef Joseph Macharia (L) with Riara Group of Schools executive chef Martin Nyaga (R) during the late chef Eamon Mullan’s memorial service at the Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club, Nairobi on March 11, 2022. PHOTOS | DIANA NGILA | NMG

BDLife spoke to some of the chefs. What was he like? What do they remember most about him?

“I studied information technology in school. I was 19 when I joined his apprenticeship at Norfolk Hotel in 2004. The project allowed you to become whatever you wanted to become for just a day, ”said Joseph.

This event would change his life, as he embarked on an unanticipated journey as a chef, starting as a commis chef, then a sous chef, and later as a senior sous chef at the Norfolk Hotel.

Joseph later went to London for further studies. “I have worked for the Ritz, Simpsons (a restaurant in Birmingham) and Savoy Hotel in the UK. I have also worked in South Africa and Ghana. ”

Adds he: “Eamon would never show you a recipe. You had to show your interest by watching him prepare something and asking questions. He would also never call you by name until after you had demonstrated your passion for cooking. ”

Thanks to Mullan, Joseph has won several culinary medals, among them gold and silver at IFEX exhibition in Northern Ireland. “He taught me that preparing food is about the mind, eyes, and your hands. It has been an exciting journey of 18 years. ”

Away from the kitchen, Joseph learns family values ​​from a man who would be gone for nearly two weeks every festive season — to be with his family. “I have taken after him in how I look after my family.”

John Bosco Mureithi was introduced to Chef Mullan after finishing his studies at St Mary’s. Three days later, he was in the kitchen. ” It was baptism by fire, ” recalls John Bosco, now executive chef at Hilton Nairobi.

Before he met the chef, John Bosco was a deviant teenager. “I never liked order or symmetry. He knocked me into shape. Today I like to do my things systematically. I like routine. ”

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Hilton Nairobi executive chef John Muriithi. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Was Mullan brutal? “He was tough. He corrected us in a tough and positive way. We worked 18-hour days, which we still do to date. ”

After Norfolk, John Bosco moved to Zanzibar and later the UK for nine years. He came back to take up a role as the sous chef at Sankara Hotel. He is the first black executive chef at Hilton Hotel. “Eamon is my superhero. What he has done to our careers is no mean feat. ”

Martin Nyaga crossed paths with Mullan just when he needed guidance the most. He had just graduated from Kenyatta University with a degree in hospitality.

But first, he had to learn a lesson about time management. Martin recounts: “He asked me to meet him for an interview at 7 am at Fairview Hotel. I ran late and he sent me away. I had to plead with him for a second chance. ”

Before joining Riara, Martin worked at Nas Servair, Nairobi Club, and at Kilima Kiu, a boutique hotel in Makueni County (now closed).

“Eamon taught me to be confident and decisive. I learned to be disciplined, which has allowed me to manage a team of 53 people and more than 4,000 meals daily. ”

For others like Simon Wanjau, however, Mullan knew they would not last their careers in the kitchen.

The owner of Kobbis Oven hails from a family of chefs and was destined to become one when he and Eamon met in 1999. Except Simon’s destiny was business.

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Simon Wanjau, chef and founder, Kobbi’s Oven during the late chef Eamon Mullan’s memorial at the Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club on March 11, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Simon recounts: “Eamon taught us to stand our ground and to be [brave enough to be] different. He fought battles on our behalf and negotiated our salaries with HR. One time he took on the UK embassy after they had denied me a visa. It was processed immediately. “

When former US President Barack Obama visited Kenya in 2015, Simon was part of a core team that would cater for the delegation. “When I got the news, Eamon was the first person I called. He told me, ‘Simon, go for it’. With his assurance, nothing could stop me. ”

For more than 20 years, Simon worked as a chef at Norfolk, Fairview, Hilton Jumeirah in Dubai, and Hotel Cardoso in Mozambique. He resigned from Intercontinental Hotel in 2019 to start his confectioneries business.

Mullan’s students concur that while he appeared nearly detached, he would occasionally sneak into the kitchen to monitor their progress.

“He did not care about your background; only your attitude and willingness to work with his team, ”says Martin.

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