This week on African Voices, the programme meets chef Ali Mandhry who explains how his Kenyan roots inspired his career and continue to echo in his charity work today.
Describing himself as an “artist”, Mandhry enjoys working with local ingredients when developing new recipes: “We’re blessed with amazing ingredients in [this] country. We eat fresh, wholesome and unprocessed foods. I love creating all these amazing recipes from the local ingredients we find in the market.”
Having grown up in Mombasa, Mandhry looks to his childhood home as the place which instilled in him a love for experiencing and enjoying food. Mandhry tells the programme: “My biggest inspiration is definitely my grandfather. He [was] the man of the house… He would pick me up from school, we’d go to the market, buy ingredients, go home and then I would cook with him. I live in a family where we really appreciate good food and we love to cook.”
After attending Kenya Utalli’s culinary school, he rapidly gained success in the industry working alongside British chef Jamie Oliver and serving the Kenyan president. In 2011, he was awarded The International Hall of Fame Award for his “African art cake” at the National Capital Area Cake Show in the United States. The cake, decorated with edible sugar art, was the beginning for Mandhry’s aim to “take African cuisine to the next level.” He reflects on the experience: “I was the first chef in Africa to get this award, which is quite huge, and it’s [made] me who I am today.”
Mandhry’s award-winning recipes have been recognised by fans all over the world, but his favourite cooking audience is the children of Tom Mboya School for Cerebral Palsy. “Whenever I find a little time, I just want to comfort these children and see if I’m able to inspire them. These children are being so underestimated by society, I want to show them that they are loved and [that] they could have talent. I always say ‘disability is not inability’… We want to make a difference in this society.”
Engaging with his community and sharing his enthusiasm for authentic Swahili cuisine doesn’t end here, Mandhry proactively posts his recipes on social media and has his own YouTube channel. Such a busy schedule appears to be a piece of cake for the young chef; he tells the programme that his work ethic is driven by his passion for creating food for others. “It’s really important to work hard, but if you love what you do, it’s never going to be hard. It will always be amazing,” he explains.