Once a dishwasher, I went on to prepare Michuki’s smoothie

Patrick Gitau is a talented cook, graphic designer and cameraman

Sitting in Patrick Gitau’s food studio is like sitting in the belly of a whale. The walls, floor and ceiling are swathed in matte black. The only light pouring into the darkened room is from the yawn of the window beyond us.

Patrick, 34, has mastered the disciplined art of self-teaching — his photography, videography, cooking, graphic design … Who knows what he will master next?

I watch as he fixes a chicken avocado salad with such ease, such grace. He later styles it for a shoot. I later gobble it down.

This is Patrick’s story: uuu

“I washed dishes at Windsor Golf & Country Club in Kiambu County for three years after leaving high school. From 2006. My parents couldn’t afford to take me to university so I began working.

I matured quickly and learned to take on responsibility. I was only 20. We would wash dishes for eight straight hours — my feet got swollen, I lost my fingerprints. The kitchen smelled of detergent. Washing dishes taught me to commit myself despite the nature of the job.

I was never one of those ugali-sukuma-avocado bachelors. Ha-ha. I used to prepare myself a full meal for dinner every night. I didn’t even eat out. I now cook for my wife at home. I’m also particular about food, so no one else but her cooks for me.

I’ve had two major shifts in my adult life. The first was in early 2008, when my sister died from a road accident. Now we’re six kids. She was 25 — very creative, very gifted. She danced, played the guitar and had a sketchbook full of fashion designs. We were close. I left Windsor a few months after she died. My faith anchored me.

Our daughter just turned one. Fatherhood has made me a more focused man. Now I know not to mess up because I have a little girl who is looking up to me.

I became a photographer because of my wife, Ginah. She runs a popular bakery. We used to take photos of her cakes with my phone, until we invested in our first camera in late 2016. A Nikon D32. I taught myself how to shoot in manual mode using the professional lenses.

I was able to capture our cakes as beautiful food art because Ginah had taught me how to bake and decorate for clients. I understood cakes. I was a bit shabby at decorating, ha-ha, but hey, we all have to start somewhere.

After leaving Windsor in 2008, I worked as a barista at Artcaffe. At their first branch in Westgate. We would all start with serving wines, then graduate to milkshakes and cocktails, then finally coffee. You couldn’t just serve the coffee, you had to master latte art — frothing the milk, feeling the mug for the temperature of the coffee then using the pipe to draw art on the froth. I drew the art from muscle memory and intuition.

I love shooting food because of the natural colours, textures and shapes. You also have to style the food on the plate to create the photo. I never use natural light because it flattens the character and personality of the food.

You can see photos of my work on my Instagram page @patrickgitaufotografi.

We lost Dad in October 2015. His death was the second major shift in my adult life. I was working at the time as a graphic designer at an advertising agency. Did two and a half years with them. I remember we buried Dad on a Tuesday, and on Wednesday I was back to my desk. Creating is therapeutic for me. My boss had lied to me — I returned to find two weeks of delayed deadlines waiting for me.

What gutted me the more is that he didn’t acknowledge my broken spirit or respect my grief. I emailed my resignation letter the following Monday and walked away.

I love to shoot chicken and smoothie bowls. The rustic cutlery you see in my photos is imported, some I bought from Toi Market.

Remember the late John Michuki? He owned Windsor. There was a particular chef who made him his smoothie every morning at 5am — a blend of carrots, apples and tomatoes. With time, the chef trusted me to make the smoothie, and also to chop vegetables, blanch potatoes, whip up pancakes … He ignited my passion for food.

I’m ambidextrous. When I worked as a barista at Artcaffe, my right hand would stiffen with fatigue. So I taught my left hand how to work. In my cooking videos, you’ll sometimes see me pour condiments or stir with my left hand.

In 2011, Mayfair poached me from Artcaffe to improve their coffee. I became a barman supervisor for three months. I made more money and worked fewer hours. I saved up to buy a laptop, taught myself graphic design then left to freelance. I made logos, flyers and grew through referrals.

I sometimes wonder how different my life would have turned out if I had gone to university and did something like chemical engineering. I’d have been another part of the system, working a regular job. Probably miserable. I wouldn’t have been as confident in teaching myself these technical skills as I am.”


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.