The kitchen is normally the busiest room in every household. Be it the cut cut cut- busy chopping on boards, scorching hot saucepans, the simmering frying oil, mixers and blenders at work, the swirling winds of the hood, dish washing and storing, recipes and menu hanging on the walls etc.
Raw ingredients are offloaded and enter the house through the service door; in the form of wheat/maize floor, bananas, potatoes, vegetables, meat, spices, milk etc.
Thereafter, what comes from the kitchen to the dinning table is edible bread ‘umugati’, chapati, ugali ‘kaunga’, cooked rice ‘umuceri’, chips ‘ifiriti’, mashed bananas ‘umunyige’ to be served alongside cooked stew ‘sauce’, and an assortment of cooked vegetables.
You and I know that the ‘isombe’ served on the table was in the cooking pot for over 3 hours and has to be stored for at least one night to build its flavour.
Some raw ingredients get boiled, others fried, others baked, others just mixed up and blended etc.
Occasionally there will be a smoothie or a salad for the starter and/or a cake or a cookie for dessert, all served in a particular order. Hats off for chefs.
I am convinced that what happens in our kitchens is very similar to what happens at the University of Rwanda. Beyond what is visible in the university logo, letterheads, flag and graduation lists, lies lots of hard work and determination to get a meal cooked.
Fresh students arrive, green and not so well versed with the challenges facing the nation and how they can become part of the solutions. Their employability as first year students is reasonably very low, then they are put through a rigorous academic process; they have to attend classes and/or lab sessions for a scheduled number of contact hours.
Through day-to-day struggles, teaching and learning happens; students are conscientiously equipped with skills and knowledge at the various levels of study. Hurray! In the end of the training, the university annually sends off architects, engineers, doctors, scientists, educationists, etc. to their respective fields.
In a recent graduation ceremony, the vice chancellor of Rwanda Prof. Phil Cotton referred to the graduands as the most unique ‘made in Rwanda’ products; a youth filled with adequate skills, knowledge and innovative ideas, ready to be served for consumption to the nation of Rwanda and beyond.
They are given ‘the power’ to go out there and serve the nation diligently and faithfully, and specifically at the university of Rwanda, the chancellor will go an extra mile to pray for them, that the good Lord continues to bless them as they go out there to impact positively to the various communities or offices that will need their services.
When the cooking is well done, no doubt the doors open before they knock. You will agree with me that the chefs in the kitchen know how best to handle recipes. They know when to chop small and big pieces of the same vegetable for different usage.
They know how much spices and flavours are adequate. They know very well that 5 minutes less or more in the oven will result in a messy grill; they know better how an extra or less gram of baking powder or yeast will give a different result. Yes, one gram.
The chefs I am talking about are the university faculty and leaders, who are constantly reviewing modules, curricula and the university structure, all aimed at delivery of better quality education than what was offered in the previous year or term.
Every good meal will need to be a balanced diet, but the chefs have something they call the balance of flavors as well.
The university or Rwanda has made frequent entries in the media lately, all for a good reason. Be it reduction of some programme durations, from four to three years, to new fees structures, to the restructuring of campuses, etc.
At times there have been unnecessary and divisive ranting on internal politics, which becomes unfortunate distractions from the main assignment of cooking. The chef works best when they keep their focus, otherwise every other accident will happen on the chopping board.
Rice cooking is familiar to us all, right? But did you know that it could also be characterised by a series of disasters?
One will first underestimate the amount of water needed, they will not pay attention to how much heat is enough, then they will only realise when it is almost drying up and still uncooked, the immediate reaction is add more water! Isn’t the result overcooked tasteless rice? Abundance of caution is needed in every process.
When a family is having to host visitors, the chefs have to get out of their comfort zone to create an amazing experience, to prepare tantalising meals to impress. In the African cultural believes, when a meal that one has prepared is all eaten up the chefs were extremely excited with their job and could get a pat on their backs and all manner of appraisals.
Likewise, the university faculty is consistently engaging in research, whose outcome is occasionally presented in big conferences and/or published in impact factor journals, which eventually reward the presenter or author with promotions, appointment to boards and, above all, a unique self-esteem.
The chefs know very well that if a recipe says butter, it does not mean margarine, if a recipe says heavy cream, it doesn’t mean ‘ikivuguto’. Anyone reading this and has tried baking with replaced ingratiates knows what I am talking about. The chefs will give us a surprisingly long shopping list when we ask them to prepare something simply called fried ‘chicken wings’.
On top of the chicken wings, the list will have over 10 spices, eggs, bread crumps etc. and you wonder what all that have to do with fried chicken wings. This is because a good chef will focus on the inside details of each meal; the flavours, the amount of spices, the temperatures, timing, etc. and will not be easily satisfied with just outside looks.
The good chefs know their thing better, and that nice tantalising meal in the end justifies it all. Who would mind a good meal?
The writer, a lecturer at the School of Architecture, University of Rwanda, is an architect and urban designer with keen interest on the dialectical relations between Architecture and Society.