I got to the venue somewhere in Parklands, Nairobi, thirty minutes early to buy myself time. I wanted to get a nice spot and also revise my notes again just in case I had left out something. I identified a table at the far left corner of the restaurant (one of the tactics I learned from one Bikozulu in his Masterclass. To always go for a spot that’s away from too many people when doing interviews). I made my way there, settled then put my bag down.
Barely had I sat down when I heard my phone buzz in my bag. I shoved my right hand inside it and tried to get it out. I struggled for a few minutes and wondered why phones went into hiding whenever it was an important call, a call that could even change one’s life. This gadget was buried under my notebook and a Jeffery Archer book I was devouring on my way to the venue. Thankfully, it was still ringing. I looked at the screen and it was Chef Rubia. I received the call with, “Hallo… Mmhh… Over here…”, and I waved at him from a distance. He then joined me at the table. I was surprised that he was not dressed in his chef regalia. He wore a pair of blue jeans and a grey t-shirt. I later learned he was going to meet some suppliers after our meeting.
Chef Rubia is no ordinary chef and I dare say he is giving others in the game a run for their money. Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, the artistic chef wanted to study Information Technology (IT). He lounged at home after high school as he waited to go to campus when a family friend who worked as a chef at a five-star hotel in Nairobi, sold an idea to his father. He suggested that the young man should be kept busy with anything constructive lest at worse, he started smoking weed or at worst, got himself involved in gangs.
What followed was the young man found himself in the kitchen of the hotel where the family friend worked, and he learned how to cook stuff for about six months. After this experience, he decided that this was what he wanted to do as a career. He joined Kenya Utalii College, later on, went to South Africa for one year to deepen his culinary art skills. He also did an exchange programme in Miami where he learned about the food culture overseas. He came back home in 2014, started his brand, and has never looked back since.
His passion for the kitchen and everything that comes with it is evident. You can easily tell a guy who doesn’t enjoy their job by how they talk. “Well, tuko tu, tunapambana na hali si unajua tu hii kazi vile hua saa zingine.” But not this guy. The passion for his craft oozes from his mouth as he talks (it’s hard to believe Rubia was once an introvert but the love for the kitchen changed all that because interacting with people was inevitable). He is the kind of guy who starts talking and you don’t want him to stop. Not to mention his contagious laughter. He is bound to have anyone spellbound.
Some people thought (myself included) that he was just starting out in his business. But as I find out, Chef Rubia has been in the game for six solid years (hats off).
“I got into the culinary industry to make a difference. I looked at what some of my chef counterparts were doing, and I decided I wanted to be different. So, instead of trying to blend in with the market trend, I decided to lie low, find my path, and build my foundation.”
A startup is not very easy to get off the ground, but for a determined mind with lots of passion, one becomes unstoppable. Then there is this thing about knocking on doors, this is usually the hardest part. Knocking doors of seeking partnerships, doors of media houses to give one airplay, doors of marketing one’s products through various outlets. People look at you suspiciously, some bang the door shut on your face, not literally though. Others open their doors with conditions while the chosen few gladly let you in and allow you to do your thing. For Chef Rubia, it was a mixture of all the mentioned scenarios. Doors were mostly banged shut on his face. That didn’t deter him from pursuing his dream.
He resolved to be laid back on knocking on any more doors. He took time out to perfect his craft. The first step was investing in his images. By the way, all his personal and culinary images will amaze you. You don’t believe me, check them out on his social media platforms- Facebook, and Instagram. He is cut from a different cloth this one.
Chef Rubia had learned early in his career the importance of letting images do the talking for him. He conceptualizes what he wants, puts the idea on paper in form of a drawing then plans with his photography crew on execution.
I asked him about some of his ‘controversial’ images. Like the one where he posed holding pasta with his bare hands or that other one that he smashed watermelons on the floor.
“Hahaha. I have been questioned by some people on the same. But for me, it’s all work of art. There is a reason why I am Chef Rubia and not any other. I like being original and unique… I like my work to be artistic.”
So where were we… aha.
Secondly, he went on to start his Charrd Grill Company that is a modern BBQ restaurant. And still under his belt is a product line of five heavenly BBQ flavours of homemade sauce and a handcrafted BBQ rub bound to tantalize your taste buds. Chef Rubia also does subsistence farming of micro-greens and edible flowers and supplies them to different establishments.
It was after he had built a solid ground that he decided to start knocking on some doors again. He knocked on doors of outlets that would shelf his BBQ sauces. Amazingly, those who banged the door shut on him previously now sought after him. Interviews came calling, invitations for food shows now knocked on his door. The world opened its arms and embraced him. Different opportunities saw him travel around the world, rubbed shoulders with other heavyweights in the industry, and learned more about the different food cultures of other countries.
Chef Rubia has grown to be an employer and he mentors other promising chefs through his ‘Chefs for Tomorrow’ programme. He has mentored six upcoming chefs by equipping them with skills and knowledge. He is currently coaching two others.
He has also had three Masterclasses, a platform he uses to sharpen other young professional chefs with knowledge. He also teaches them how to use different types of kitchen equipment. He has an upcoming Masterclass early next year which is in partnership with some leading companies in Kenya. He has also been featured in several publications such as the East Africa Chef’s magazine.
Despite these achievements, Chef Rubia is not settling for anything less than being the top chef in Africa, and a leading restaurateur. To make sure he gets there, he spends time researching, reading, and traveling to learn about other countries’ food culture. As with any career, a chef must also keep evolving and not compromise on the quality of his work.
The biggest lesson the good chef has learned is, knowing when to leave money on the table and walk away if it compromises your vision. For those who will open doors for you, well and good. For those who won’t, it’s still ok. You dust off and move on.
My time with the chef is up as he needs to go meet some of his suppliers. On my way home, I get myself one of his BBQ sauce and I kid you not, this is the real deal. Now that Christmas is a stone’s throw away, why don’t you put your taste buds to the test with Chef Rubia’s array of homemade BBQ sauce or the BBQ rub. Don’t worry about delivery, the good chef has got you!