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From Kirinyaga Road to writing great cookbooks

Saturday July 20 2019

Jasmine Macharia.

Jasmine Macharia. She is a trained chef and also an author. PHOTO | COURTESY 

FLORENCE BETT-KINYATTI
By FLORENCE BETT-KINYATTI
More by this Author

I’m holding Jasmine Macharia’s cookbook in my hands right now, Joyful.

I don’t cook much, but I host — there is a dinner recipe for ratatouille on page 52 I’m dying to try. Ratatouille is not as fancy as it sounds, but it will make me seem fancy. It takes 30 minutes to prepare. I have all the vegetables and spices I need in my pantry.

Jasmine’s Spanish is as fluent as her Kikuyu. I’m fascinated. I ask her to tell me something and she says, “Qué quieres que te digo?

This is Jasmine’s story:

***

“I wrote my first cookbook while selling Toyota spare parts on Kirinyaga Road, in Nairobi’s downtown. It was 2016 and I was working with my dad — he has run that business for over 25 years.

Breakfast With the King has 70 different recipes for breakfast. I would write the recipes in my free time at the shop during the week. Sundays I would cook, style the food then shoot it myself.

I relocated to Spain when I was 17. I have two elder sisters and they had been living there for more than a decade. Spain has a rich culture for food and wine. I mastered basic Spanish then joined college for a degree in culinary arts in restaurant management. I went to a region in the northeast called Catalonia.

INTIMIDATED

My purpose for Joyful is for people not to be intimidated by their own kitchens. It is to bring back happiness into their cooking with these simple recipes. There are also devotional sections in the book with Bible verses. The recipes are for restaurant-style dishes. I didn’t include Kenyan cuisine because there are already other chefs in the industry actively doing this.

I was only 24 when I got married. But I always knew I would marry young. Marriage is what you make it. Gee Gee and I have enjoyed each other’s company for five years, now we’re waiting for the arrival of our first baby in late August, God willing. I’ve asked my friends not to throw me a baby shower.

I fell into severe depression in mid 2017. The General Election had most of the clients I was to collaborate with delay payment or shut their doors. Twenty-four doors shut that year, I counted. I felt abandoned by God. Gee Gee didn’t stop praying for me. I didn’t realise how vital hope is until I lost it.

I cooked my first dish when I was 10. Minji — I made it in our kitchen at home and experimented with the spices. It must have been delicious because everyone cleared their plates. My mum later invited chefs from restaurants like Serena to teach me how to cook. Funny thing is, I don’t like minji any more.

INDOOR CATS

We have a cat named Fuzzy. She is those white, fluffy indoor cats. She is very lazy and very fat, ha-ha, she does not go outside to play or chase rats. She only eats store-bought food. You will even hear a thud when she jumps off the sofa. I had to convince Gee Gee for two years to get her, now he loves her more than I do.

I got born again while listening to a Christian hip-hop song by Lecrae, “Don’t Waste Your Life”. God captured my heart through music yet music was one of the indulgences I struggled to surrender. I still listen to a lot of music, mostly Christian. I even married a gospel DJ (DJ Gee Gee).

You can reach me on my Instagram page, @cookingwithjaz.

I remember I was in my living room when the Holy Spirit spoke to me the idea for Breakfast With the King. I didn’t think I could come up with 70 recipes for breakfast. I opened Notes on my phone and just started typing. I came up with 30 recipe titles in under five minutes. We launched the book in early 2017.

STRANGE PLACES

I was a rebellious teen. Drinking, partying hard and waking up in strange places, lying to my mother … I carried these habits when I moved to Spain in 2007. I realised I was growing up when I stopped asking myself what my mother would think of my actions, and began asking why I would do that to myself in the first place.

There is a feeling of being home that you cannot get from being anywhere else in the world. I equate that feeling to the comfort of ugali.

I graduated college in July 2010 then worked in a commercial kitchen for a few months. It was terrible; the experience can suck the passion out of you. You do the same thing every day, so if you are working the grill, you will work it day after day after day. I vowed never to work in a commercial kitchen again. I returned to Kenya at the end of the year and worked for my dad.

The cloud of depression cleared towards the end of 2017. I got a rental in Westlands to bake granolas. I was doing it with a half-heart and side-eye, though, I did not think any of it would work out. I wanted to do more with the space so in February 2018 we offered cooking classes. I cooked for bridal showers, date nights, kids … I figured to put all these recipes into a book, thus Joyful.

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