CHEF ALI- You need to speak the language of food

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Photo: Michael O’hagan, @micoh on Twitter

Chef Ali Mohammed Kandolo’s journey began from Nandos Uganda to training in Zimbabwe and then to working in several of Uganda’s top hotels. After 16 years of cooking professionally, Chef Ali still has big dreams for Uganda’s culinary industry. 

The best advice I ever got was from chef Steven Mayambala, he said; ‘chef Ali, everything is you, you, you.” If you find the fridge open, close it, if the fire is on, turn it off, if the tap is running close it. Don’t say its not my responsibility and wait for the next person to do it.

Salt I think is that ingredient that everyone should have in their kitchen. Salt is what makes food taste.

On navigating pork as a muslim chef

By virtue of my profession as a chef, I am supposed to know the recipes, train others and also know the outcome before it goes to the client. I handle this in 2 ways, I measure the recipes and just have someone add them. I also have people I have entrusted to receive the pork when it comes in; I have given them qualities of what the product should be like. Things like; it should have less fat or be trimmed to such inches. With instructions they can’t go wrong

There are a number of reasons why I enjoy cooking. There is the passion and love in me for cooking; you look at an onion, the way you cut it to make a sauce, then you have your spices aside, you look at the fire, you regulate the fire to what you really want, you have this beautiful pan and all the condiments cut in different shapes, and you know what comes out of all of this? Is a beautiful meal. Seeing that beautiful output feels great. But also seeing someone enjoying the meal is something I love.

Mmmm…yes cooking is a talent, but you should also have some expertise. You really need to know what you’re doing. Where talent comes in is the creativity part of it-where in the recipe book you are told to cut in a certain shape, but when you sit and think and look at what you have, you do something different. It is important because recipes that were written the 18th century are changing, the flavours are changing, presentation is changing. However, you cannot forget the basics. For example with G nut sauce; If you put salt before it is ready, it will not hold. Off the fire, you put salt, it holds! And this is basics.

Advice to those who can’t cook

Cooking needs patience and attention. Attention to details; temperature and time. As you cook, observe colour changes; it might start out as green then to brownish then to golden brown. The flavours might go from raw to medium then well done. All those are steps you need to observe. Everyone can cook, but only if you follow the language of food. The language says; ‘When I’m raw, I look green. When you cut me in this shape, I might not turn out well when I am ready.’ So in that case, if you know something will disappear in water, cut a bigger size so when it is ready, it is the normal size. So all those changes need to be observed

Easiest dish for you to prepare, you could make it in your sleep.

Anything regarding fish. There’s no need to tenderize, it cooks for a short time, it absorbs flavours easily and you can turn it into different shapes. You can make fish cakes, fish roulade, you can bake it, you can deep fry it.

If I wasn’t a chef, I’d probably be a lecturer or teacher. Being a chef involves a lot of reading, research and presenting. You enter different countries to try and find out what they have in terms of food. When you talk about Greece, you find the meza, to Spain, there are tapas. I have to present and explain more about what I have learned to the people I work with.

What we are adding to food that we don’t need to add

If you leave out things like taste enhancers; aromats, the monosodium salts, the soy sauces your food will still be fine. The dark soya sauce is strong in colour but light in salt. The light is strong in taste but light in colour. It is popular in the tiger countries.

Most people misunderstand what a kitchen is. Have you come across or interacted with the army or a barracks? Kitchen staff are called a kitchen brigade. A brigade is a group of people, like a force, doing a task together. Within this type of force, you are supposed to have one order. If you have multiple orders from person A, B, C, you can’t have that consistency and production is all about consistency. We have these systems of production, hygiene and sanitation. They have to be applied procedurally, and procedural application is painful. To pull this off, you need someone strong and assertive. That is why you hear “Close the door! I told you it should be closed.” We don’t mean to be harsh but these are people’s lives you are dealing with so there is a need to be strict.

There should be a way to teach people who cook on the streets to cook clean food. Most of them can cook but the only missing part is the hygiene.

My dream is to create a kitchen lab. A place where chefs can exhibit cuisines from all over the world. Where people can come to learn the basics of cooking, the art of food and that care when handling food. The sky would be the limit for Uganda if we can achieve this.

Chef Ali owes some of his expertise to his mum whom he used to help to mingle posho and who taught him how to properly dissect a chicken. Experience his meals at  Silhouette in industrial area.

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