It was an invitation I very nearly refused. I’m glad I didn’t.
It was for the inauguration and induction of the Nairobi Chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs at the Villa Rosa Kempinski. The reason I almost refused? The invitation email said it was going to be a black tie event and a seven-course dinner. Now, it wasn’t the black-tie wearing that made me wary – it was the idea of seven courses of food.
OK, I do write about food. But let me confess, I am not too fond of it – a piled plate is a real turn-off. The idea of seven of them, even if not piled, was quite daunting. If you are a regular reader, you will know that when I write about a restaurant it is the ambiance rather than the menu that I mainly focus on.
But let me explain about the Chaines des Rotisseurs. It is an international gastronomic society founded in Paris in 1950. Actually, it can trace connections much further back – right back to the French Guild of Goose Roasters founded in 1248. Its website tells us that it is the oldest and largest food and wine society in the world.
With over 25,000 members, it is now established in over 80 countries – and it already has a chapter in Mombasa. It brings together enthusiasts who, as the website says, ‘share the same values of quality, fine dining, the encouragement of the culinary arts and the pleasures of the table’. It brings together professionals – chefs, hoteliers and restaurateurs – with lovers of fine cuisine from all over the world.
The inauguration ceremony at the Kempinski was quite brief but dignified. And then the induction and ‘chaining’ of the first Nairobi chapter members followed, in a ritual that involved taking a short oath and having a wicked-looking sword laid over their shoulders as they were ‘admitted’.
The Chaine has an ‘Association Caritative’, which is established with the objective of giving help and assistance to the needy through its project initiatives and charitable aid programmes worldwide. And the Chaine also sponsors competitions for young and aspiring chefs.
… But back to the seven-course dinner. It was a very grand affair. Of course, the Kempinski is a very grand place. And on this occasion the hotel pulled out all the stops. The dinner was in the spacious ballroom. The tables were laid with the imposing but requisite array of cutlery. (That array itself can be quite daunting, unless you remember the drill: ‘Work from the outside in’.) The seven wine glasses were lined up at an angle for each place setting.
There was a singing piano player, with a harpist and a violinist, to entertain us. We were asked not to talk to the waiters; not for any snobbish reason, but because they had to keep to an intricate and synchronised serving drill, and so conversation would have distracted them.
And so to the food… First, there was the Gratinated ‘Fin de Claire’ Oyster, accompanied with what was aptly described as a ‘light bodied brut with freshness and finesse of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with mouth feel and crispy finish’. I guess you now get the idea?
Second, there was Truffled Foie Gras Torchon, with sauternes jelly and cassis figs. And with this there was a Sauternes, Chateau Berenice, 2011, which I will never forget. The menu said it has an aroma of acacia flowers, but what I will remember is the ‘peach and plum on the palate with honey finish’.
But I must quicken the pace… Third was the Essence of Bouillabaisse, a lobster and fennel ravioli. Fourth was a sharply delicious Lemon Grass and Ginger Sorbet, neatly served on top of an upturned wine glass.
The main course – I assume it can be called a main course – was Slow Cooked Short Rib, with baby root vegetables and accompanied by a fruity red Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The dessert was an imaginative Symphony of Strawberry and Rhubarb, which I’m sure Kempinsky’s pastry chef enjoyed constructing. It was accompanied by a white and sweet Muscato wine.
Finally, the seventh course was the Artisanal Fromagerie Selection, a board of, I assume, our Kenya’s Brown’s cheeses, set off with poached pear and pumpernickel powder. And the last intoxicating tipple was a glass of Graham’s Fine Ruby Port.
I needn’t have worried. I managed to do justice to all seven dishes. There were no piled plates. All were modest, except in the style with which they were presented. But, after all that wine, I was glad I had booked a taxi to take me home.
I am now wondering how to inveigle an invitation to join the Chaine des Rotisseurs.