Ian Iganza has been in the hospitality industry for just eight years, but has already risen up the ranks to the position of head chef.
He currently heads the kitchen team at Ibis Styles Nairobi Westlands, which is part of the global French hotel group, Accor.
Chef Iganza’s passion for the kitchen began as a child and his mother was his inspiration as she "Always made amazing meals to surprise us."
He studied culinary arts at the Utalii College of Nairobi and did further training in India, which exposed him to Asian cuisines with interesting mix of flavours. Chef Iganza specialised as a roast chef and saucier.
"Meat done right is the highlight of a meal."
However, he is also interested in desserts and while in India, he competed in a global dessert making and display competition. He describes his life as a chef as a rollercoaster trip, but he is enjoying every moment of it.
When did you join Ibis Styles?
Since the hotel first opened in July 2016. I was present during the transition from the previous brand to the current Ibis Styles Nairobi Westlands.
What is a typical workday for you?
Our workday starts as early as 4am in the kitchen to prepare breakfast for our hotel guests, which we serve from 6.30am to 10.30 am daily. I am not on every breakfast shift but my team of chefs play a critical role in ensuring it runs smoothly. After breakfast we move to the restaurants, which are open for both hotel guests and outside guests.
The kitchen is like a never stopping mill because even when we are not serving guests, we are working on our kitchen preparations, commonly known as mise en place, which means "putting in place" or "everything in its place. This ensures we are ready to serve our guests at any time.
What else does a head chef do?
Ideally, I am always prepared to serve guests over two days. This ensures that if there is a mishap with supplies and deliveries, we have enough lead time to streamline the operations. Aside from that I also work on the restaurant menus. Most days I work with guests who are celebrating special events with us, to choose their menus based on preference and budget. Together with my team, I aim to make every guest's experience unique and memorable.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
I am a continental kind of chef who produces cuisines from all around the world including Japanese, New York and local dishes, of course.
What are some of the favourite meals at Ibis Styles?
This has to be the range of steaks. I happen to be a meat lover and I enjoy preparing steaks. However, the chicken meal options are popular as well.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences as a chef?
Some of the most memorable moments happen when the whole team is in sync serving about 300 customers in a day and the customers are all pleased with the quality of our service. Happy times also happen when I engage with clients and they review their meals positively.
How do you keep you up with changing global trends and cuisines from around the world?
Through research. I grab every opportunity there is to learn. My return customers always need an element of surprise every time they visit. Each return visit is therefore an opportunity for my team and I to showcase creativity in our culinary skills.
What do you like to cook at home?
My kitchen is out of bounds for me. My wife tells me that the only kitchen I control is the one I work in. However, my favourite meal to cook and eat, which sounds cliché, is kienyeji chicken with ugali and traditional vegetables. This simple meal always does it for me.
What advice would you give young aspiring chefs?
Firstly, you do not start as the head chef. In fact, in some kitchens you start with washing the dishes. But this is all worth it because by the time you are leading a team of chefs, your synergies are so in sync that clients will never notice when you are having a bad kitchen day. Also, have an open mind because every day is a learning opportunity.
What would you still like to accomplish in your culinary career?
I look forward to the hospitality industry opening up and having more Kenyans as head chefs. I am gearing up to become a great group chef in the Accor family of hotels.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like cycling and I commit to cycling 20km every time I’m off duty.