Kenya got what it takes …


(Posted 21st October 2013)

(The Limuru based Sovereign Suites)

There are a few places where, when travelling, I dare to leave the choice of menu to the chef without getting my stomach into a nervous twist. The MAIA in the Seychelles is one, the Hemingways in Karen another and before I make a longer list which may bore you, the Sovereign Suites too fall into that category.

The hour long drive – on a Sunday afternoon – from the central business district of Nairobi up into the lofty green hills of Limuru was worth the journey, not just for the tranquility of the all suite hotel but also to enjoy a bit of opulence in one of the suites on the upper floor, where the terrace offers sweeping views into the hills across the valley. Opulence of rooms here blends with indulgence, as the meals are made of fresh organic ingredients, and the plates come loaded with food to give diners who take the trouble to come all the way from the city not just quality but quantity too.

On arrival I casually mentioned that for dinner, if agreeable with the chef, he should prepare a meal of his choice for me, perhaps a signature dish or two, but what came out of the kitchen was a 7 course meal, petit fours alongside the tea included.

A honey melon sweet and hot Gazpacho was followed by a selections of hot bitings comprising wrapped prawns, a tangy tasting pea dumpling and a calamari, perfectly done and enhanced with a stuffing of olives and scallops. Next came a roasted apple and walnut salad with Tahini Mayonnaise, before a soup appeared, broccoli, asparagus and carrots making for the colours in the bowl and the soup itself ladled on to it. The bread selection made an own course, and while I sentimentally eyed those creations, I dared not to touch them for fear of not being able to stop, especially the spiced ones – until all the different breads would have vanished into my stomach.

The main course was to be a surprise and NOT to be meat or poultry. I half expected a seared salmon fillet, or some red snapper but what I got was a lobster thermidor, and not as a small tasting portion but complete with all the trimmings … Death by indulgence came to mind, as I scooped a few pieces onto a side plate and then gifted the rest to the kitchen team, so that they could finally taste some of their own creations and not just see those vanish into the stomachs of eager diners.

And if ‘Death by indulgence’ was but a distant thought when I looked at the lobster it turned into a reality when the dessert arrived … the chocolate and coffee mousse and the banana palate prompted me to start eating into it before I even managed to take a picture, so appealing did it look and so divine did it taste. Death by chocolate, for sure not the worst way to go …

Why this story you might wonder, explaining about food and suites. Well, over the past few days I participated in the Magical Kenya Travel Expo’s seminars and workshops and then the show itself. While talking with the hosted buyers, several of them dug deep to find out just how safe Kenya was and one was royally shocked when I told her that the previous evening I had walked from the KICC to the Sarova Stanley Hotel where we incidentally both stayed. Safe I told her, give it a try, and I will walk with you I told her but I could see how she was influenced by the perception that it was after all ‘Nairobbery’ … not for me it wasn’t and I can only say that walking the streets of Nairobi during the day too felt safer than in a long time, with cops keeping an eye on things, the way it should be.

KTB is presently moving from the defensive mood in the immediate aftermath of Westgate into an offensive mode, taking the battle for tourists to the markets and when making that crucial appearance at the World Travel Market in two weeks time, the world will see the spirit of defiance, a spirit of resilience and a spirit of belief in a better brighter future for Kenya tourism. MICE business will be specifically targeted and not just for Nairobi but also for the Kenya coast where facilities to host larger scale meetings exist in some of the leading resorts.

Kenya hosted in recent weeks two major conferences, the African Hotel Investment Forum and the Eco Tourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference, both global events which brought top executives to Nairobi. In addition did the Skal Clubs of Kenya bag the Skal Congress 2015 for Mombasa, another show of not just immediate solidarity but a testament too that Kenya got what it took to secure such a prestigious event. Kenya has the hotels, the resorts, the safari lodges and the attractions, as the just concluded World Travel Awards showed, when Kenya as the host country swept much of the winners trophies. Kenya has the culinary experience and talent in the kitchens around the country, from the Michelin rated chef at the Hemingways in Karen to chefs who trained at Utalii, earned their first spurs and feathers in their caps as sous chefs, then went abroad, often to the Gulf, to learn more, absorb experience and then come back home to practice the fine art of high cuisine. And Kenya has Kenya Airways, a national airline keen to play the role the private sector expects them to play, connecting Kenya to the world and the world to Kenya.

So yes, I give a resounding vote of confidence to Kenya’s tourism industry and their ability to pull that magic rabbit out of the top hat, just like we did in Uganda on several occasions in the past when we had to deal with the evil side of mankind.

To my friends at KTB a vote of thanks, for a well organized Magical Kenya Travel Expo, for the excellence of the speakers and panelists selected for the MICE Seminar and the Symposium held alongside during the Expo, for the selection of venues and for bringing the private sector on board, from Kenya Airways to the hotels and the tour companies, the logistics suppliers and the communication providers, all chipping in, all pulling their weight with but one objective in mind, to showcase Kenya and to blitz the markets. Good luck and God’s speed for WTM and beyond. Kenya is here to stay and will recover before doing better and better again. Three cheers to that as the 50 day countdown has started towards the 50thGolden Jubilee of Independence which is coming up in December and will be celebrated with 50 events and showcases along that route. Watch this space.

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