Brew Bistro & Lounge, located on Nairobi’s Ngong Road, is well known for its microbrewery, which churns out enough beer to get the party started on any given day of the week. It is also home to Chef Tim Freeman, who has the tough job of ensuring that Brew’s two popular restaurants remain high on the Nairobi dining map. Jeanette Musembi caught up with him between shifts.
Tell us about yourself
Being the son of a preacher I have lived in a lot of places, but I consider myself to be from Texas, because that’s where my heart is. I started my interest in cooking when I was very young, maybe around seven years old. I loved watching my mom cook, and really enjoyed helping her in the kitchen, cutting vegetables.
Why did you choose to become a chef?
For me it was fascinating to watch my mom create something from what I thought was nothing. Cooking is action and reaction. You can see the results of your work almost immediately. Also it was an escape for me, as my home life as a teenager was rough. I didn’t always see things the same way as my dad, so it created conflict.
So how did you land at Brew Bistro?
I have been in the business since I was 14, making this 22 years since I began working. I have always wanted to work in Africa, and while in the Philippines I saw a posting online for Brew Bistro. I sent my CV not really expecting a response, and the following day I was emailed back. After a three-day trip here, I accepted the job.
What is the best (and the worst) dish you’ve tried?
Without a doubt the best meal I have ever had was at Jean Louis at the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC. Renowned Chef Jean Louis Palladin, a French master, owned it. I ate there in 1994 with six people and our bill came to over US$ 1000! That was a crazy amount of money for a meal in 1994, and especially when I was only 16. The food and Jean Louis were amazing. He made a memorable impression on me, as after the meal I had a chance to meet him. He even offered to let me come into his kitchen and train for a day.
The worst dish I have ever tried was when I was a judge in a cooking competition for senior citizens. Someone made a chicken dish that tasted horrible – sort of like Dettol. Being a judge is not always rewarding!
What do you consider to be your best creations, and what are the classics that you like to put on your menu?
I have a signature tuna dish that I make, and everyone who eats it has a mental orgasm. It’s inspired from my time in South East Asia. The classics that I like are any of the Oscar dishes. Usually it’s meat paired with crab, asparagus and Béarnaise sauce. The combination is great, even for a 70-year-old dish.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable?
As an INTJ personality type, my mind works non-stop. Anyone who knows me well can tell you I need 30 minutes of quiet time each day. I don’t want to be bothered during this time, as it’s my time to think and process information in my head.
What do you cook at home that you never make at the restaurant?
I am going to let you in on a secret here… I love to eat Korean noodles. It’s called Ramyun.
What are your favourite, newly discovered ingredients?
Although passion fruit isn’t a new ingredient for me, I really like the ones from Kenya. They have the perfect balance of sweet and sour.
What is your favourite cuisine to cook?
I love Asian food. It’s what I have spent most of my life studying, and what I enjoy eating the most. Maybe in a past life I was a Buddhist monk [laughs]. I just love the simplicity of it, the way items are cut, and the care involved in making that style of food.
When you’re designing a meal, what factors do you take into account?
I tell my students in my cooking class we have five basic tastes: sweet, sour, smokey, salty, and bitter. If you can incorporate three or four of those factors into a dish, it will be a knockout. If you can get all five, it’s a winner!