Local Business Spotlight: Chef Wycliff Nduati of Wycliffs' Kitchen, Columbus

Wednesday, May 10, 2017
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I love trying out new restaurants and cuisines. Food, I feel opens your mind as much as travel and books do. It makes you think about the origin of a dish, the cultural impact it has on a country and of course, the most obvious one, it tastes delicious.

On this podcast, I sit down with Chef Wycliff Nduati of Wycliffs' Kitchen right here in Columbus. I met him at his restaurant after work and after the last customer for the day had walked out, he greeted us (husband and I) with a smile still fresh, even after a long day. And we talked about his childhood, his journey as a chef and Kenyan food.

I have tried to transcribe the podcast here, if you are into reading more than listening :)

Is your name pronounced Y-Cliff or V-cliff?

It depends on where you come from. If you speak American English, it's Y-cliff and if you speak British English, it's Wicliff. But it doesn't matter. I am fine with it, either way.

Could you tell us a little bit about your family, where you grew up?

I was born and raised in Kenya. I grew up in the rural areas of Kenya. I was fortunate enough to be raised by a dad who was an entrepreneur. He was a restaurateur as well. He had a restaurant, a shop and he was a butcher. So, growing up, he treated me and my siblings as his workforce and he trained. So, for me, cooking and being a restaurateur is natural.

But for the most part, my dad wanted me to concentrate more on the business side and he wanted me to keep out of the kitchen. But, I admired how people could turn ingredients into something amazing, that people can eat. And I learnt most of my cooking from just watching. And because of my interest, I would try things out and I would always impress people with my cooking.

And when did you come to the US?

I came to the US in 2006. I came here for school. I graduated from Franklin University
with a Bachelors Degree in Accounting and Forensic Accounting.

So, completely a different field from what you are in right now.

Yes, That's because cooking and restaurant is a way of life for me. When I migrated to the US, I was in Indiana before I moved to Columbus and I was very disappointed that I couldn't find the food that I loved and was used to. And I would go to parties and would have Kenyan food and would say "This is not Kenyan food", even though, it was made by Kenyans.

I knew I could cook better than that. And then, my friends would tell me to cook Kenyan food for them. And that's how I found my way back to all of this.

Your friends kind of pushed you into this?

Only because, they knew my background in restaurant and cooking. They would request me to make something for their parties and they would be amazed at how authentic the food was. They started ordering more quantity and would offer to pay for the food. And that is how we started.

Then we started making baked goods from home. And my wife, back in Kenya, had a lot of training in cooking Kenyan food. She's one of the most amazing chefs.

So, it was a perfect match.

Yes. We enjoy cooking and we are both passionate about food. our concept is to keep it fresh. That's the things about Kenyan food. There's no shortcut to it. If you try to do that, the food doesn't taste as good. All our spices are from Kenya.

We take our time with every dish. All our meals are made from scratch. We try to cook as less as possible and try retain all the nutrients of vegetables.

And it reflects on the food. It's delicious.

Thank you.

And your restaurant is the first Kenyan Restaurant in Columbus?

Yes, and in Ohio, Indianapolis and in this area. I think the next one you'll find is in Maryland and the DC area.

It's the only East African restaurant, in terms of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Because we share our cuisine, 95% of it.

If I were to go to Kenya, would I get the same flavor as I get here or do you Americanize it a little bit?  

We try to keep it authentic. We try to bring the memories of Kenya into our restaurant. This has turned out to be more of a destination. Whoever has traveled to Kenya, whenever they hear about us, they want to come to our restaurant as soon as they can. And when they come here, they are never disappointed.

It's like being back home. 

Yes, and that's what our intention is. When you walk into our restaurant, we want you to feel like you are right in Kenya. We keep it authentic. We don't try to americanize it. But we make sure it's comfortable to everyone's palate. So, our food is not that spicy but we can add spice if you want it to be spicy.

And for anyone who hasn't tried out Kenyan food, what's the dish you would recommend. Sort of a gateway into the world of Kenyan food.

I don't want to give a generic answer because all of us have different taste. Our menu is not that big. We specialize on a few dishes that are signature kenyan dishes an we concentrate on them and do them very well.

When you leave this restaurant, you'll definitely leave thinking "huh..what should I try next?" So, it's a little tough to tell you what you should try, but going by the numbers, beef stew and our fish is very popular.

So, you can do beef stew, combine it with pilau rice, which is rice made in natural spices and not hot spices, add chappatis, which is flatbread, and these will go well together.

And definitely try our samosas, if you are visiting us for the first time.

What's the biggest misconception people have about kenyan food? 

That african food is hot and spicy.  But african cuisine is varied and it has a lot of subdivisions, depending on the region it comes from. East Africa where Kenya is, food is not spicy.

So, you use a lot of natural, non-spicy spices like cardamom?

Yes, coriander, cloves...So, our food is very welcoming to a new palate.

And if you go to the western or the northern part of Africa, the food is supposed to be very spicy. That's how you are supposed to enjoy that food.

Kenyan food is not spicy?

It's not spicy but if you request for the food to be spicy, we can make it spicy.

And where do you see this restaurant in the future? 

We are closing in on three years of Wycliffs' kitchen and we are happy with the way it's going. We keep growing every year. And we are very thankful to God and our customers for choosing us because there are so many restaurants in Columbus.

Our motto when we started this restaurant was to make sure we don't deprave Columbus of our amazing Kenyan food. We plan on serving Columbus for a very long time.

I am so glad we have an authentic Kenyan restaurant in Columbus, everyone should definitely try this amazing cuisine.

Yes, infact,for people that are planning on visiting Kenya, the organizers bring their groups to this restaurant to introduce them to kenyan food before they travel.

And also, the other way around. Kenyans who come to the US and who are looking for homemade, authentic kenyan food come here as soon as they hear about this place. They get a taste of the food that they are used to and have grown up eating.

This place is the best cure for home sickness as well for other Kenyans.

Yes, for sure. And we are happy that we are able to offer something so valuable to them.

Three fun, quick questions: 

- Favorite restaurant you go to on your days off :

        Taqueria Guadalajara - Great mexican food
        Ted Montana's Grill - Love their burgers

- Favorite Food from childhood: 

      Beef stew, ugali (mashed corn flour meal) and collard greens . That's a kenyan staple and my comfort food.

- If we were to impress our friends with our knowledge of kenyan food, what's that something we should know about? 

     Nyama Choma (grilled goat) with Kachumbari (salsa) We serve this every saturday at our restaurant.

Wonderful. Thank you so much for taking out the time for this podcast interview. 

Thank you for having me.

Connect with Wycliffs' Kitchen on Facebook 

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