Belgian Week: Beer, Chocolate and Jazz

I will have to be careful with this piece. Because my wife is Belgian, you see. She is convinced that her country makes the best chocolate in the world, the best beer, and the best chips. Maybe the chips – I’ll give her that. The secret, so I now understand, is to fry them twice. Though when my wife begins to extol the virtues of Belgian potatoes, I remind her that I was born and brought up in East Anglia – the best potato growing region in the world.

But Belgian chocolate? If I eat more than a couple of Belgian pralines at one sitting I can guarantee I will get a migraine. It doesn’t happen when I eat a whole bar or box of Cadbury chocolates. My wife says that’s because English chocolate doesn’t have enough cocoa in it. In fact, I believe the European Commission tried to make the UK remove the name of chocolate from its chocolates. I guess that kind of finicky bureaucracy is one of the reasons –but not the main one, of course – why so many Brits voted for Brexit.

As for Belgian beer, well, for our first years of marriage, and to ingratiate myself with my wife, I tried so many of their beers – Duvel, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Chimay, Westmalle, to name but a few – but I found them all rather thick.

‘You mean you found them too strong,’ my wife said.

‘I quite like Stella Artois,’ I pleaded.

‘Perhaps the weakest of all our beers!’ she countered. ‘Proves my point.’

Well, you have a great opportunity to judge for yourselves. During the ‘Belgian Week’, starting this coming Wednesday at the Nairobi Serena Hotel, you can experience three days of workshops with Laurent Gerbaud, the renowned chocolatier from Brussels, and the beer sommelier, Jean Hummler, also from Brussels – from its famous bar, Moeder Lambiek.

Chocolate and beer – can they really go together? I remember the surprise and giggle of a waitress at the Lavington Kengeles when, some years ago, I ordered a slice of chocolate cake with my glass of Tusker. Almost every time she served me after that she wouldn’t let me forget it. ‘Chocolate and beer!’ she would say. ‘How could you?’ And, honestly, I also felt rather ashamed that I had made such an odd kind of pairing. (And, to tell you the truth, I didn’t at the time think they went very well together – and I never tried it again.)

However, from 6 – 7.30 pm on Friday and Saturday evenings, 24th and 25th of this week, you can vindicate my once odd choice by attending a beer and chocolate pairing workshop at the Serena Hotel. Or, at 8 pm on the Saturday, you can participate in the, perhaps less extraordinary, chocolate and wine and whisky pairing.

Preceding these events, there are three chocolate tasting workshops at 4 pm on the 23rd, 24th and 25th – and a chocolate praline making workshop on 25th at 10 am. If you would like more information about the workshops, and for reservations, you can contact:

Nancy Katsima (nkatsima@serena.co.ke or 020 2822457) or

Maria Konzolo (mkonzolo@serena.co.ke or 020 2822345)

The other Belgian Week initiative at the Serena Hotel is the sponsorship of Chef Olivier Bruckner, who has come back to Nairobi to prepare three dinners where, as he says, he will add a touch of Belgian culinary flavours to Kenyan ingredients. These dinners will be on 22nd, 23rd and 24th at 7pm.

And I should say that these events have been organised by the Embassy of Belgium, with the support of the Lufthansa/Swiss Star Alliance – and, of course, the Nairobi Serena Hotel.

Earlier, I mentioned the Moeder Lambiek bar in Brussels. Now, I’m not going to joke about Belgium’s bars as I have joked about its beer of chocolate. I have a real fondness for Belgian bars. One of the reasons is to do with the music you often hear in them. And the point is that the music is loud enough to hear, but you can still talk. I really can’t stand a place, like so many bars here, where the music is so loud that you can’t have a conversation without shouting – and that isn’t a conversation.

One more thing… the Embassy of Belgium is also partnering with Safaricom on the occasion of its International Jazz Festival, on February 26th at the Kasarani Stadium. The Belgian Jazz band, TAXIWARS, will be performing. Its recently released album, Fever, got very positive reviews by the international press. The review I like goes, ‘It’s like being trapped in a sweaty, smoky, subterranean bar with a gang of immensely fun people who can quote Kerouac verbatim’.

And note that would be a bar where you can hear poetry as well as the music!

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation