Ole Sereni hotel has recently opened a new pizzeria, Ole Pizza. We sit down with Head Chef Larz Klein and learn about working in the hotel industry and the new restaurant.
Chef Larz Klein is the head chef at Ole Sereni and has been working and living in Kenya for two years. Chef Klein has been a part of the industry since he can remember. At 16 he undertook an apprenticeship in a hotel kitchen in Germany as part of his university culinary program. Chef Klein would spent 10 months of the year in the kitchen and the remaining 2 months in a classroom. The program lasted 6 years and, after passing the exam, Chef Klein went to Switzerland and has since been traveling the world with his job.
For Chef Kelin, traveling the world is simply a part of the job. “You have to travel. I think if you stay in your home country it gets boring… If you’re working abroad you have a completely different responsibility compared to being in your home country” he comments when asked about what it takes to make it in the hotel restaurant industry. Sure enough, traveling opened Chef Klein to different cuisines around the world. He spent several years in Asia particularly the Philippines and China and fine tuned his talent for Asian cuisine.
Chef Klein and I sit on the veranda of the new Ole Pizza restaurant at Ole Sereni overlooking the Nairobi National Park. It’s the only hotel in the world with a direct view of a national park, he tells me. There used to be lions that roamed through the park which, if you were lucky, you could see in the early mornings. Now, with construction and noise on the outskirts (and inside) the park, lions are harder to come by. On the horizon, however, was a slow moving giraffe grazing on acacia trees.
As we chatted over the new Nyama Choma pizza: nyama choma with blanched sukuma wiki and a side of kachumbari, Chef Klein noted that the pizzeria had only been open since mid-May. “I think 95% of people who come here say they like to eat pizza,” says Chef Klein on why they upgraded their oven to a wood-fired oven noting that the there’s a difference in taste and texture of crust.
The pizza making process in a wood burning oven is quick and easy. The oven gets fired up in the mornings at around 9AM in time for service at 11AM and is heated to between 350℃ and 400℃, in this heat, pizza takes about 7 minutes to cook through perfectly. Everything that goes onto the pizza is homemade and fresh: the sauce, dough, ingredients. Soon, Ole Pizza looks to launch a delivery service of their pizzas which will be available from 11AM to midnight, some of the latest dining options available in Nairobi.
Originally, pizzas were made-to-order at the Big Five restaurant. On this menu, there were only three pizzas available. After deciding to open Ole Pizza, Chef Klein experimented with 20 to 25 pizzas and after testing them for four weeks amongst their customers, he reduced the menu to their top selling pizzas. To keep things different, Ole Pizza has a “Pizza of the Day” and Chef Klein is always looking to keep things fresh and new so you shouldn’t be surprised if there’s suddenly a new pizza on the menu.
Now, Chef Klein is working on the model for the new hotel. The second Ole Sereni property will be next door to the current hotel. Although the name hasn’t been decided on, the 2018 opening date is fast approaching. This new hotel will be focused on accommodating corporates and as such, the kitchen will have to expand and new menus will need to be conceptualized.
Chef Klein has always worked in hotel kitchens and believes it’s a different ball game from a stand alone restaurant, “I would say a hotel chef and a restaurant chef are two different people. In a hotel, you have a completely different responsibility compared to a restaurant chef. You’re covering a larger variety of outlets and a wider range of people. You have to try to keep your hotel guests in the hotel to dine”. Chef Kelin clearly enjoys working in the hotel industry as it’s been his life’s work. When asked where he’d be if he wasn’t a chef he says he’d be putting together and riding motorcycles but the traveling would never stop.