Every profession demands commitment, diligence and personal sacrifice of those who wish to rise to the top. This is not different for hotel management and catering.
Peace Nankunda Butera, the executive sous chef (second in command) at the Kampala Serena Hotel is the epitome of these qualities and today, she is counted as one of the top chefs in Uganda.
The Kampala Serena being a premier hotel hosts high profile visitors and Butera’s work is to prepare private meals, banquets and luncheons to international standards.
Some of the personalities she has served include former president Bill Clinton and his family, Queen Elizabeth II of England, His Highness the Aga Khan, numerous African heads of state, famous international footballers and US televangelist Benny Hinn.
The dish that she loves preparing for guests is the grilled king prawns on shell.
“When grilled and served with lemon butter sauce, this dish is out of this world. Most of the international guests that I have prepared this dish for have loved it, and Uganda being a landlocked country, guests don’t expect to find fresh sea food at the Kampala Serena Hotel.”
Growing up, Butera’s family knew that she enjoyed cooking, but it was after her secondary school that her guardian, who had returned from a long stay in England, advised her to take up a career in hotel management and catering.
“Having lived in Europe, he knew that chefs were respected and paid well,” she says.
So she joined and graduated from the Uganda College of Commerce Nakawa (now Makerere University Business School) with a diploma in hotel management and catering in 1992. She worked at the Nile Hotel (now Kampala Serena Hotel) in 1993 as a trainee for three months. She excelled and the hotel employed her.
When the Serena Hotels group took over Nile Hotel in 2004, Butera was among the few lucky staff members to be retained.
She has had the privilege of working in 10 Serena units in five African countries as well as attending several professional courses and trainings at a number of five star establishments in South Africa and Turkey.
Not so easy...
Butera is however quick to say that being a chef is not easy.
First, the professional kitchen has predominantly been a preserve of male chefs. but she says determination and staying power saw her break through the glass ceiling.
“It is not an easy profession for women because it takes up your day and night since hotels run 24-hours a day. As a mother, you have very many personal competing demands and you have to balance this with professional demands. When I started off, I was the only female at the hotline (saucier), where all hot dishes are cooked. Most women prefer the pastry or cold section where salads and cold cuts are prepared. It is considered a ‘soft section’ because there are no flames,” she said.
“It is very rare to emerge from the pastry section and become an executive chef because you are confined to that section and will not grow. It you want to grow professionally, you can learn how the pastry section works and then break into other sections of the kitchen,” she advises, adding, “You need to have a passion for this career for you to succeed and do the best.”
Her typical day starts at 5am, Monday to Saturday, and she says; “It doesn’t matter what time I went to bed. At quarter to 6am I have to be at the hotel in time for breakfast which is served at 6am.
“Thereafter, I have to oversee lunch and dinner, attend to suppliers and clients to discuss banquet menus and future events. For example, menus for international conferences are planned a year in advance. Depending on the day’s business and the business of the following day I always get home between 9pm and 10pm on a working day. Sunday is my only day off.”
Butera still finds time to visit extended family and friends and enjoys eating food prepared by others. She however does not cook in her home saying, “I have trained my house help of over 18 years on what to cook for my family from a menu I have prepared myself. She knows the favourite dish of every member of my family.” She is married with four children, two of whom are adopted.
For all the time she spends away from her family, she compensates by taking them on an annual 14-day holiday at her choice at any Serena Hotel in Africa courtesy of her employer.
Kampala Serena Hotel’s executive chef, Eshton N. Muthai, says of Butera: “She is very professional, a great chef and very attentive to detail. She is a perfectionist. She can never release a dish to her clients which according to her is not perfect in regards to the recipes. She is a great leader, team member and always training and mentoring younger colleagues to make a great career in catering.”
“I would advise young women to be hands-on and forget about the stylish manicures, latest fashions and hairstyles because you don’t need them in this industry,” says Butera. She adds that she has not experienced any resistance from male chefs, “because I have been fortunate to have trained most of them.”
Despite being at the top of her career, retirement plans are not far off from her mind. “If I wake up one day in my retirement which is not far away, I would wish to run my own bed and breakfast facility. I believe I have delivered to the best of my ability since I started working in this trade in 1993.”