Meet the Kenyan chef who likes extreme food: Kiran Jethwa

The star of the Channel 4 series talks Kenyan delicacies, bull's penis and camel's milk

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Kenyan chef Kiran Jethwa is willing to go further than most for a good meal. We asked him if there’s anything he wouldn’t eat and discovered he has a soft spot for Manchester’s curry mile…

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What did you grow up eating in Nairobi?

My father is Indian and his side of the family were really into their Gujarati cuisine. My mother is from Manchester but she learnt how to speak Gujarati fluently and she’s one of the best Gujarati cooks in the whole of Nairobi. So it was a blend of everything – fish and chips one night and a potato shaak the next. 

So that’s why you sound like a Brit? 

Yeah, I was born and raised in Kenya but I went to university in Manchester and I’ve a lot of family here. I speak Swahili fluently but English is my first language. I would never say that I speak Gujarati but I can listen in on a conversation.

What was it like arriving in Manchester aged 18? 

The weather was very difficult for me! And I remember having a nasty brush with a bunch of 16-year-olds with penknives. But I loved it. I had a really good bunch of friends that I’m still in touch with a lot.

How did you find the food?

I spent a lot of time on the curry mile. And I knew all the kebab houses well. At that stage I was eating what I could afford to eat, and having competitions to see who could eat the most McDonalds in a day. 

What do you serve in your restaurant in Nairobi?

We have amazing seafood in South Africa thanks to the Indian Ocean so we mainly focus on that. That was my mission when I opened the restaurant because no one had really done justice to the variety of seafood. You couldn’t go to a restaurant and eat seven or eight varieties on any given night.

What Kenyan staples are worth seeking out? 

Nyama choma, which is basically barbecued goat. A lot of people shy away from goat but go to a nice barbecue joint and it’s delicious. It’s served with ugali, which is like white polenta and another Kenyan staple, and sautéed kale. Eat it with a Tusker beer.

Your first show, Tales from the Bush Larder, was East Africa’s first cookery travel show. Why did you want to make it?

People tend to say “African food” and throw a blanket over the place. Africa has more than 54 countries, more than 2000 languages. We tried to show that part of the world in a positive light because a lot of media coverage tends to be focused on the negative. And while we shouldn’t ignore it, the reality is there’s another side to life there. 

In your first Channel 4 series, The Fearless Chef, you dangled off a rickety zipline in search of coca leaves and free-dived to 30 metres to spear a dogtooth tuna. Did you eat anything you wouldn’t put in your mouth again?

Bull’s penis. Actually, that was remarkably tasty! When I was in the Amazon, I ate these big grubs straight out of the ground and still wriggling. A little bit offensive is the only way to describe the taste. You’ve got to bite the head off so it doesn’t bite you. 

What pleasantly surprised you?

Camel’s milk from Ethiopia, straight out of the udder. Very nutritious but very tasty as well – rich and a little bit salty.

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