‘We’ve found our chef!’ I remember the late Steve Fitz shouting excitedly across the Angama office, sometime back in 2015. Somewhat surprised, we questioned his certainty: Who was this man? Did he really know how to cook? How could Steve possibly be so sure? Food has always been such an emotive part of Angama’s story, how could he possibly be so sure of such an important appointment?
We were looking for someone who wasn’t set in their ways. Someone who could be trusted to lead a team of Kenyan chefs and deliver an evolving menu without it ever being too much trouble. There would be picnics aplenty, special requests, dietary requirements from across the globe: vegan, Kosher, pescatarian, Indian, Chinese… you name it, and we wanted our team of chefs to be ready for it all. We were looking for someone who — under Nicky’s steady guidance — could inspire both a love of food and a love of cooking, delivering it day in and day out across two guest-facing kitchens without missing a beat, or any buffet in sight, whilst not forgetting about our beloved staff canteen. In short, we were looking for what at times felt like a unicorn. And a Kenyan one at that.
And yet, that’s exactly what we found that fateful day in the Mara. This is how Nicky describes it: ‘Just over eight years ago I was interviewing for the head chef for Angama Mara when in strolled Collins, as cool, calm and collected as can be. In short order, I asked him: "Have you cooked for guests paying $xxxx before? Have you run a kitchen that is strictly a la carte? Have you managed a team of 17 chefs preparing 3 meals a day for 60 guests? Have you heard of Ottolenghi?" The answer to all of these was a cheery, "No". Collins was totally nonplussed by my questions. How could I resist appointing this man who I instinctively knew would deliver all and more than I could ever have asked for? We worked side by side in the Angama Mara kitchen for the first two years of welcoming guests. We laughed, we cried, we celebrated, we experimented, we failed and we succeeded in our quest of delighting guests with every mouthful. I know he will lead the Angama Amboseli team with the same cool, calm and collected manner — but this time from the front door and not the kitchen pass.’
A professional kitchen can be a very stressful place. Yet, somehow, Collins has always managed to keep the peace and the team singing together as one. Of course, it wasn’t always smooth sailing, yet Collins’ ability to keep a sense of humour in the midst of a crisis was so refreshing that it has now been written into every Angama job description. Arancini Tuesday? There’s never a crisis to be wasted and always a story to be told.
During his time at Angama Mara, it became apparent that he knew how to lead others and unite behind a common cause, and had no problem taking the initiative to start something new — especially when it was close to his heart. As football naturally follows food, he promptly became the Manager of the Angama Football Club. Not content with just pulling the strings from the sidelines, he took it upon himself to revive the Mara Cup — a huge effort to co-ordinate camps and lodges from across the Mara into an extremely competitive annual football tournament, with professional referees from Nairobi no less.
Besides the charming, affable and confident chef, there was another personality making waves behind the scenes. Slowly and quietly, without seeking recognition nor reward, he went about settling disputes, calming tempers and ensuring the entire Angama Mara team remained united. Because of this, he took on the mantle of ‘Angama Way Officer’, both mascot and keeper of our values and it’s a virtue which I believe is the reason why our Maasai landlords in Kimana have already named him “Saruni” — ‘he who solves others’ problems’.
Is there anyone else better placed to be trusted with the day-to-day operations of Angama Mara’s new sibling, Angama Amboseli? With a deep understanding of the Angama Way, we trust him to find the balance in opening and running a lodge that is representative of the Kimana community and one that our community partners are proud of, to tell the Big Life story, to celebrate the Maasai and Kenyan culture of Kajiado County and to delight our guests of course, from the front door — with a can-do-attitude and a quiet chuckle never too far away.
This story doesn’t end here, of course. With Angama Amboseli opening in November, Collins’ next chapter is only just beginning. We’re all right behind him and wish him well.
There have been many well wishes from the Angama team, but the following two stood out:
‘From day one, when you hired me as your assistant in the kitchen, we have worked well together and achieved the Angama food philosophy of keeping things simple but delicious, unfussy, always generous and joyful and sometimes surprising. You were always there for the team and the entire lodge in managing sports, solving issues, being a financial adviser and supporting the community. I don’t have any doubt in my mind that through your remarkable leadership, you will take Amboseli and its team to another level. Good luck Chef!’ — Chef Evans Ondara, Collins’ successor as Head Chef of Angama Mara
‘Collins, you have been such a pillar in the Angama Mara story from inception and it has been a joy watching you grow. From your days as the Chair of the Board of Management, your organizational skills whilst relaunching the Mara Cup, your negotiation skills and your unique way of manoeuvring through tricky situations make you a great choice to lead our new sibling and it is inspirational for us all to witness your hard work give birth to success. Collins, your will to push and never give up has brought you this far, you deserve this and more. We shall miss you in the Mara. You got this!’ — Azei Lago, General Manager of Angama Mara
Filed under: Stories from Amboseli
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