Today the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko, Freetown’s first five star hotel, opens its doors to guests and visitors. However Executive Chef - Lorenzo Stride’s kitchen has been secretly up and running since last Friday, serving a variety of gastronomic delights to a select group of Freetown’s residents.
On Friday, when the hotel’s very first guests walked into the restaurant, Nuno Neves, the General Manager, quite rightly looks confident and proud. The restaurant looks stunning - candlelit tables, spread with red linen tablecloths are set with fine china and highly polished glasses. On each table is a menu letting the diners know what Lorenzo’s kitchen is serving up.
“I am a spontaneous cook,” Lorenzo says. “I open the fridge and let the ingredients inspire me. I believe in using local produce; always fresh, never frozen. This is always the mainstay of my recipes.” Friday’s meal had a local flavour and was inspired by his passion for fresh fish. He has several suppliers and local fisherwomen know to go to him only with the very best.
The meal started with a seafood salad, with crunchy vegetables and Spanish olives. The main course - a filet of grouper – was served on champignon sauce with potato gratin, and followed by sweet coconut rice with a surprise mango centre. The selection of breads, all handmade on the premises, included a mini baguette, crostini and oregano bread, and was served with a variety of pates and butters.
As well as a way of introducing Freetown to Lorenzo’s cuisine, these special tasting evenings were full dress rehearsals for his kitchen and the restaurant staff. Nuno Neves and Lorenzo needed to know that when the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko opened for business, everything would be perfect.
All the kitchen and restaurant staff have been given training in Radisson Blu’s ‘Yes I Can!’ approach to customer service. As General Manager Nuno Neves points out: “Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko expect a lot from their staff, and training has focused on developing a mind-set of customer service, commitment and trust among their employees.
”In the kitchen on Friday, there was none of the nervousness associated with a first night. The evident calmness and sense of confidence augers well for the restaurant and its staff. Lorenzo likes a calm and quiet kitchen. With the exception of Lorenzo, his Pastry Chef and his Executive Sous Chef, all the staff are Sierra Leone nationals. Ahmed Conteh, the Head Chef for the evening, looks like he has everything under control. He started his career as a steward at the hotel in its previous incarnation, before going to work in other hotels and is very pleased to be back.
By the end of Friday evening, it was clear from the reactions of the guests that in Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko’s restaurant, the very best of Sierra Leone – superb local ingredients, great cooking, and friendly and hospitable customer service in beautiful surroundings – had come together to create an unforgettable experience.