Zuhura Mohamed is the head chef of Cardamom House, she shares her story and why it is important for women to be represented in all sectors.
Tell us about yourself.
I come from a family of six in Lamu. My father is the one who taught us how to cook. And by the age of 12, my cooking journey had begun.
Is this what you always wanted to pursue?
No, at first it wasn’t my career of choice, it couldn’t be. I studied business management in Mombasa, but after graduating I couldn’t find a job. After months of searching, I finally got a job as a chef at a Coastal restaurant and since I could already cook, I fit right in.
It’s not every day you find a kitchen that’s headed by a woman. How has this experience been for you?
It has been a massive learning curve for me. I came from a coastal restaurant that was dominated by men, I had to unlearn some old habits and learn how to treat my colleagues better.
Did you ever see yourself working in an all-female kitchen?
Honestly no, this is my first time working in an all-female kitchen. I am yet to see another place offering this in Kenya.
What motivates you as a female head chef?
I am aware that men dominate most high-end kitchens both locally and internationally, we want to change that mentality, because both men and women men are able to share the kitchen space and be successful at it. The women I work with are not just my colleagues but my sisters and it is with that harmony and understanding that we make the workspace a better place.
What does your job as a head chef entail?
It is my job to give our guests the ultimate Swahili experience. Introducing international guests, especially to traditional Swahili flavours and opening their palettes to Swahili fusion and signature flavours we’ve created in our kitchen. Also, sourcing produce and reliable suppliers are key to my job. Of course, any kitchen has operational duties which we undertake but most importantly, everything is done with our guests in mind.
What is your day like?
My day goes according to the dietary requirements of our clients, the fresh produce available at the local market, what the fishermen bring in and the gastronomical creativity that comes from it. I like my meals fresh and creative.
What would you say is the most challenging thing about your job?
I have never been exposed to guests having different dietary needs, it becomes a challenge when we have a full house of guests and each has a different dietary requirement.
What is your signature dish?
Everything I cook is a signature meal because I cook with love. However, if I had to choose, it is my Trio of Shellfish – prawns in coconut, grilled lobster, and crab in a shell.
What ingredient is a must-have in your kitchen?
How can I choose one? We have so many.
Black Pepper, Coriander, parsley, garlic, oils and a secret local ingredient that we never share.
Would you encourage other women to follow in your footsteps?
Yes, I would! I am happy to have this kind of kitchen ten times over. It could inspire them to have their own businesses someday.
The Chef industry in Kenya is so competitive. How do you make sure you stay above the competition?
Our way is very different here. We have multiple courses, Canapés, varieties, and twists, no matter what the dietary requirement is.
Our menu changes every day as we go, creating something new. We take inspiration from international top chefs and make it with Swahili twists. Everything is homemade meaning always fresh.