This past Monday, we, The Wondercores, sat down with the Chef and Owner of Cheka Japanese Izakaya for a brief interview which we were very excited about, seeing as it would be the first interview we would feature on the blog. Chef Yuki welcomed us in with a nice hot cup of green tea which I was really grateful for because it was a very cold morning. We then had a very interesting conversation as we sipped on our tea.
The Wondercores: We are dying to know why you came to Kenya and when, would you tell us about that?
Yuki-san: In university, I studied Sports and Physical Education after which I joined JICA volunteers. I was posted to Zambia for two and a half years by JICA where I taught Karate which I really enjoyed doing. From Zambia, I then came to Mombasa, Kenya around 2 years ago where I opened a car dealership. After some time doing that, I quit and came to Nairobi to open my restaurant.
The Wondercores: How did you find Kenya the first time you got here? Have you picked up any Kenyan languages?
Yuki-san: When I first got to Kenya, I was staying in Mombasa which was very hot so I had to get used to the heat. Another thing that I had to get used to was the really slow pace of work and general movement in Mombasa which I came to notice when I moved to Nairobi which is the exact opposite of Mombasa; much cooler and fast paced environment. So far, I speak kidogo Swahili which I picked up from Mombasa but while in Zambia I picked up a couple of local languages because I found that there were many similarities between their languages and Japanese.
The Wondercores: From a sports teacher to a chef and restaurant owner, that’s quite the change. Could you tell us how you decided on cooking as opposed to teaching?
Yuki-san: I have always loved cooking. What’s more, I love sake and interacting with people and talking to them so I saw that the best way I could cook, have my sake and get a chance to talk to people would be through a restaurant. So, I opened Cheka.
The Wondercores: When did you discover your love for cooking?
Yuki-san: I started cooking for myself in elementary school after my parents had divorced because my mother had to work long hours and after some time I noticed that I liked it. Later on in life, I had a part-time job at a sushi restaurant for seven years where I learnt how to make the sushi I make today and got enough money to pay for my university fees.
The Wondercores: That is quite the story you have there. It’s very impressive. When did you open Cheka and how is it doing so far?
Yuki-san: I opened Cheka on Valentine’s day this year and so far business is good. On weekends I usually have a full restaurant which is great and on weekdays, I usually receive a lot of businessmen. This may come as a surprise to you but most of my customers are not Japanese, if I were to give a rough estimate I’d say, in a day, 70% are expatriates, 20% are Japanese and 10% are Kenyans.
The Wondercores: Where do you get your ingredients?
Yuki-san: I import most of my ingredients like the sake, soy sauce etc. But, for the fish and the sea food, I get them fresh from the Indian Ocean.
The Wondercores: Besides cooking, what are your hobbies?
Yuki-san: I love sports and if I we’re being very honest, I can play almost anything. I also love fishing, while I was in Mombasa I went fishing every weekend which I really miss doing now.
The Wondercores: Lastly, being a chef and a cooking enthusiast you must have tried some Kenyan dishes by now. Which are your favourite? Can you cook them?
Yuki-san: I really like ugali with chicken (which I can cook) and well, of course I’ve had nyama choma which is very good.
Cheka is an authentic Japanese style restaurant. A friend who had lived in Japan for a year remarked at how it similar it looked to the restaurants back in Japan. The restaurant is located in Westlands off James Gichuru Road adjacent to ABC Place. Head on down there sometime and experience Japanese cuisine 🙂
Never Miss A Post!
In a perfect world, Gillian would be travelling round the world in her red vintage VW T1 van (Hippie Van) gathering stories of the people she meets and retelling them to those ready to listen. She is in the process of building this world which is now going to have all of you in it.