Kenya’s Celebrity Chef Tells His Story

Eamon Mullan, Kenya’s best known chef, rang me. ‘I’ve written a book, John’.

‘Great! It must a cookbook,’ I said.

‘No, there are some recipes but it’s mainly about me. It’s an autobiography.’

‘You dared do that? I must read it!’

‘I hope you do. And I hope you can review it.’

So I did read it, with great pleasure – and now I am reviewing it.

Eamon’s book is called, ‘Food for the Famous: A Celebrity Chef in Africa’. Yes, in his times – travelling and working across different countries, but particularly in Kenya – he has cooked for many celebrities. And, a unique thing about the autobiography is the final part, which is a collection of 18 recipes he has served to people – an amazing group that includes Queen Elizabeth, Michael Caine and Robert Redford.

Eamon begins, like Greek epics, in media res – in the midst of things. His opening sentence is, ‘The deafening noise shattered the busy hum of the hotel at 8.40 pm’. The shattering noise was a bomb exploding; the hotel was the Norfolk in Nairobi. It was New Year’s Eve, 1980. Twenty people were killed; 80 were injured. If the bomb had gone off thirty minutes later it would have been much worse, because the main dining room would have been full.

The man who planted the bomb was a member of an Arab group. It has been assumed that this early terrorist attack in Nairobi was in retaliation for Kenya allowing Israeli planes to refuel here during the 1976 raid on Entebbe. And the owners of the hotel, the Block family, were Jewish.

That bombing had a devastating effect on Eamon. He describes some of the things that must be embedded in his memory; the vain attempts to reach some of the people trapped in the rubble; the charred bodies of two children – and the following day he had to identify some bodies of his colleagues.

Eamon’s many years at the Norfolk, where he was the Executive Chef and Food and Beveridge Director, must have been the highpoint of his career. He must feel very proud, too, about the superb Pango Restaurant he created at the Fairview. But it was at the Norfolk that he met – and cooked for – most of his celebrities. One of the guests staying there the night of the bombing was Paul Simon, of Simon and Garfunkel fame. And over the years there were so many more; among them, in addition to the three I have mentioned above, there was Richard Burton (the great actor not the explorer!) the singer Adam Faith, the footballer Pele, the actress Meryl Streep, the actor Ben Cross, the cricketer David Gower, and the racing driver Jackie Stewart.

Eamon’s brief references to them are fascinating – the way he made a special soup for Michael Cain after he had complained, for example, or his judgement that Pele was ‘such a gentleman’, and David Gower ‘humble and down-to-earth’… Perhaps I should jump ahead and tell you about a couple of the ‘celebrity recipes’.

For Richard Burton, Eamon served Supreme of Duck, with Baringo honey and Drambui liqueur. When Ben Cross visited Eamon’s home, he enjoyed traditional English Fish n’ Chips, with mushy peas. For David Gower, Eamon served a Filet of Tilapia with fennel and oyster broth. When Queen Elizabeth returned to Treetops in November 1983, he presented her with a huge Anniversary Cake.

With all these, and the other ‘celebrity dishes’, Eamon gives detailed ingredients and instructions.

But, as he says, rubbing shoulders with the stars was very different from his humble beginnings. His father fell on hard times; the family were reduced to a lowly council house in the unlovely steelworks town of Corby in Northamptonshire; Eamon had to swap a private for a state school. His school career was quite chequered. I wish he had written a few more of the escapades he has told me over a glass of wine.

He had a ‘scallywag’ time as a young professional footballer, playing for Blackpool reserves. He ended up as a chef, because a friend told him there was money to be made in it. And what a career Eamon has made of it!

If you would like to have the book, you will find it at BookStop, Textbook Centre, and the Prestige Bookshop.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation