We were taken on a wonderful taste adventure when we attended the launch of Simbithi Fig Tree restaurant’s new menu recently. One of the most fascinating elements, however, was the influence of East African flavours introduced by senior sous chef, chef Godfrey Kinyanjui. We met up with him a few days later.
Whether you’re a Simbithi resident or a North Coast local who enjoys popping in now and then to enjoy a meal, there is a very strong chance that, at some point, you would’ve met the Fig Tree’s senior sous chef, chef Godfrey. You can’t miss him … he always has a big, welcoming smile and a spotlessly clean chef’s outfit!
Kenyan-born Godfrey has been working at Simbithi for 10 years. While other executive chefs have come and gone over the years, Godfrey has been a comforting constant for both the kitchen staff and the loyal patrons of ‘The Fig’. We sat down for a cup of coffee with the incredibly humble 42-year-old chef.
Godfrey grew up in Nairobi and discovered his love for cooking when he was just a young boy. One of six children, he spent much of his time in the kitchen with his mother before she passed away when he was just 12 years old. Then, he says, it was up to him to cook for his younger brothers. “I started experimenting with my mother’s recipes and really enjoying cooking.”
Godfrey loved growing up in the country’s busy capital city, which he says is still one of the friendliest cities he’s ever known. After school, he completed a two-year travel and tourism diploma, before starting his own event and catering business, which is still running successfully, 20 years later, headed up by his brother.
Losing his mother at a such a young age was very hard for Godfrey, but discovering his passion for food and cooking was, he says, somewhat of a silver lining.
When a friend of his visited South Africa and told him about Durban, Godfrey’s interest was piqued. “I wanted to come to South Africa and qualify as a professional chef here. South Africa is considered the best country in Africa when it comes to chef training.”
He came to Durban in 2004 and started his training at a chef’s college in West Street. After doing work experience at Coastlands Convention Centre, Godfrey worked at two busy Durban beach front hotels before reaching one of his ultimate chef dreams in 2008, when he was given a job working under well-known top South African chef, Dean Uren at the five-star Zimbali Lodge.
“Working under chef Dean was amazing. He is such a fantastic chef and he taught me so much. He introduced me to fine dining and I worked at both the lodge and the country club.”
When Simbithi opened the Fig Tree, Godfrey moved across and began working under another celebrated South African chef, Gerard van Staden. “I was incredibly happy to move here. It really does feel like we are a big family. I think chef Gerard turned me into a real chef. I learnt so much from him and he promoted me to sous chef and then senior sous chef.” Godfrey has since worked under two other executive chefs at Simbithi – Darren Bowers and Gary Opperman.
“I have a little bit of all the top chefs that I’ve been so lucky to work with in my career inside of me … they have all made me who I am today,” says Godfrey, who is currently doing an advanced diploma with the hopes of one day becoming an executive chef himself.
Commenting on the Fig’s newly launched menu, Godfrey says putting it together was a team effort. “I’m incredibly blessed to work with such a strong group of chefs, all of whom had input and gave us their ideas for the new menu.”
While they have kept many of the restaurant’s firm favourites on the menu, they have also added a few surprises – our favourite being Godfrey’s own Kenyan-inspired Stuffed Lamb Shoulder with pimenta, dates and a wonderful Dukkha spice. “We eat a lot of meat in Kenya, especially lamb. There is also a lot of Arabic influence, thus the Dukkha spice.”
Asked what he enjoys about being a chef, Godfrey says he loves learning new things all the time. “At the moment I am working on my pastry skills under the watchful eye of our own pastry queen, Philile Dlamini.”
Despite his humility, chef Godfrey is no stranger to the spotlight and was even featured in author Erica Platter and photographer Clinton’s Friedman’s most recent cookbook, Durban Curry: Up 2 Date. The book features a dish inspired by Godfrey’s Kenyan heritage called Kuku Bizari Ya Pwani, which, in Swahili means ‘a chicken curry from the coast’.
When he’s not at work, Godfrey and his partner Lungile (who is also a sous chef at Simbithi) enjoy cooking healthy food at home. Strangely enough, this man who is so skilled at serving up delectable meat dishes rather enjoys eating salads!
Pop in to the Fig Tree and try out some of the wonderful new dishes on the menu. We highly recommended the Lamb, the Eisbein or the Chicken Tikka Burger … and you can’t go wrong with their famous Cashew Nut Chicken or any one of the amazing curries!
Text: Leah Shone
Photograph of Godfrey: Clinton Friedman
Photographs of food: Chris Allan Photo