Vivienne Adala is passionate about food and is one of the masterminds behind a food movement taking Kampala by storm. We chatted with her about her passion.
Thank you for making the time for a chat. Please tell us about your businesses, Vivienne.
Adala Catering and Events is a catering and events management company offering tailored meals and event services to our varied clients while with Sizzles and Grills we offer BBQ services for events.
So Vivienne, I notice you have two separate businesses, do they both serve wedding clients?
Most definitely. We have had clients book us for both the main course meal and BBQ for a single event. For instance, a client may hold their wedding ceremony at midday – church service and all – then have cocktails and BBQ in the afternoon, usually without the bridal entourage. I normally will host the bridal entourage for a private cocktail , meal and to freshen up. Then they will proceed to their reception for dinner.
Other clients opt to have the wedding dinner and then have a BBQ for after party.
That is quite a bit of eating being done in one day…lol. You have mentioned hosting the bridal entourage for some refershments. It must be a centrally located place that isn’t too costly.
Actually, I host them at my house in Kyambogo. I have very spacious gardens that can host up to 300 guests.
What happens if the church/mosque and reception venue aren’t conveniently located near Kyambogo?
This is something I usually offer for free to give the couple who have their wedding or receptions around my area a place to “kill” time.
Okay. What kind of cuisine do you mainly offer for weddings?
It is mainly local Ugandan dishes but with a fusion in the sauces which we prepare in continental style. For all weddings I hold a tasting session with a full set up so a client knows exactly what their meal will taste and look like on their big day.
What does continental style mean? Help the reader understand
This is food with an international flare…spices, herbs and cooking style NOT just ROYCO or plain boiled. A client can ask for butter chicken which is Indian or chicken Maryland which is American and we will prepare and serve it in its traditional style.
You must have been doing this for a long time. How old is your business?
I have been in business a little over a year but I have been cooking for fun for many many years.
How did you get started? Did you get formal training or did you just kind of evolve into it?
I have no formal training in the catering business. My mother taught me to love the kitchen when I was about 7 years old and I have never looked back. I grew up in a home with many relatives…9 or ten at a go and so we always cooked a lot. A lot of food, that is.
…and my dad loves to host guests. It was routine on Sundays to have more than 20 people at home throughout the day. This is a tradition I have inherited and I now host friends every week.
Why did you decide to start cooking as a business?
To put it simply, the demand was high. Many of my friends and colleagues kept calling me to make their weekend dinners but they did not want to go out and purchase anything. They just placed the orders and I had to do everything. Eventually my friend, Kavitha demanded that I start charging and voila…the rest is history.
You prepared the food for free? They didn’t even cover the costs?
They offered but I declined. I usually got a trip to the spa or something instead but those days are now long gone.
It must have been a challenge transitioning from preparing a meal for a handful of people to a few hundreds. How did you manage?
I called my Mama. She told me to just do it, go for it. Then I called my friend Kavitha and she advised me on the amounts of food to buy. So I bit the proverbial bullet and opened for business. I am confident of my skill and I’m a daring person.
Oh, you must be. Cooking for 10 people is a marvelous feat in my book but catering for 300…I wouldn’t dare! How big was your team when you started out and how big is it now?
I started off with three to help me cut and peel etc. Now I have 10 people in the kitchen and a team of 20 waiters as well. I also have a logistics team which is managed separately by my sister-in-law. I just cook.
Do you do all the cooking yourself or do you have specific dishes you let absolutely no one touch but you?
I never allow anyone touch my sauces and the pilau, rice dishes in general. The rest of the food that is steamed or deep fried I delegate to the team.
Which is your favourite sauce? And which is that other perfect dish that would pair it with?
Hmmm? I like to make a not too spicy chicken curry and serve it with a bay leaf coconut rice. I find that a welcome combo with most guests.
Do you only provide buffet style meals or do you do plated meals as well? I mean course meals: soup, salad, entrees, dessert etc
I only do plated meals for small functions of upto about 25 guests at the moment, but I have two chefs I am currently training with so we can be able to handle a fully plated dinner at weddings. Hopefully we will be able to add this to our services by 2017.
For weddings. Who is that ideal client? Age range, income levels, location etc
We have catered for clients who cut across every line; age, income and location. We have something for every type of client with our menus priced from UGX15,000.
Are there any dishes you do not prepare? Why not?
So far I can prepare everything under the sun. I don’t have a bias.
Do you always find the ingredients or have you had clients bring you some that you just have to include in the menu?
I have loads of ingredients. My parents are travelers and through them I have acquired lots of spices from various parts of the world.
So nobody has brought you crocodile tail to prepare for their wedding dinner? Just kidding.
Hahaha, not yet but I make a wicked crocodile tail stew.
What is the most unusual request you have received from a client for meal for an event?
A full southern Indian menu for a very Ugandan client and his 10 guests. He had traveled extensively in Kerala and Mangalore state. Interestingly, I studied in South India so the dinner was easy-peasy.
Have you encountered any challenges when planning menus for Ugandan clients? Do some out rightly refuse to consider some dishes or insist on pairing warring foods together? Any examples?
Not really. I haven’t had that challenge both here and in Kenya where I hail from.
Are you flexible to cater for events out of the city?
Yes, I am very flexible with traveling out of Kampala to my clients especially now that I have been able to build a team. I have also catered events in Kenya, mainly in western Kenya and Nairobi so travel isn’t a problem for me.
Any specific challenges you faced when you were starting out in the business?
Yes, I had to hire most of the cooking equipment when I was starting out which is very expensive. This, as you can expect, cut into my profits greatly.
What has been the biggest lesson you have learnt that you can pass on to someone starting out in your field?
1. Buy your equipment to cut out on hiring – it is too expensive to keep on hiring everything you desire.
2. Network with other caterers – you cannot grow if you isolate yourself.
3. Set your standards and maintain them or aim for higher…DO NOT COMPROMISE!
If you has a minute with a potential client, what would you tell them about why you are their best choice for a wedding caterer?
My food and excellent service will be the center of attraction at your wedding – after the bride of course. The food I will serve be the icing on the “cake”.I am confident of that!
Is running Adala Catering & Events and Sizzles & Grills your full-time career or do you have another job?
I am a lawyer by profession and training. I also farm as well as make and sell chilli sauces such as the commonly known ‘Apeta‘ kind. Mine are called ‘PEPE’ and I am still selling them privately to my friends and family. I hope to go commercial with them in about a year’s time.
Can you take us through a typical day or days leading up to a wedding reception you are catering?
We start with a discussion with the couple and agree on their menu. A deposit should be made at least 2 months before the wedding and with the final installment paid two weeks to the date.
The week before the wedding I will double check with my client on the guest numbers and the menu and make the necessary adjustments. Once that is confirmed, I ensure I have all the cutlery is presentable and ready. During this week, my logistics manager will make a site visit with the head of the waiting staff to get a proper understanding the venue layout. After all, my waiting staff needs to coordinate for efficiency.
I ensure I have all dry rations for the event at least 5 days to the event, perishables such as vegetables and meats will be delivered the night before and cooking preps are done then, especially the cutting of meats and marination if there is a need.
On the wedding day, we ensure that the food is cooked and ready to leave the kitchen for the event site at least two hours before the serving time. The wait staff would have arrived earlier to set up the serving stations with chaffing dishes and the stoves we take to keep the food warm until it is served.
What time do you usually start cooking on the wedding day?
As early as 2am depending on what time the meal will be served. I can assure you that our matooke is always butter-soft and piping hot even for the last guest served at 8pm. I normally prepare at least 13 dishes and I have an equal number of stoves so the food gets ready at the same time. This way, we avoid delivering under-or overcooked dishes. I can also comfortably handle two events on the same day.
How does a potential client get a hold of you to book your services?
Most of my business has been through referrals so it is usually over the phone or Whatsapp but I am more comfortable holding the discussions through email so there is no misundertanding on both the client and my part.
(Please check the end of this article for Vivienne’s business contacts.)
With your chosen career paths it must get pretty demanding for you. What do you do in your free time (if you have any)?
I love to try out new recipes whenever I’m not dealing with work.
I enjoy crotcheting and I make scarves and such for my kids who live in Nairobi where it gets pretty cold sometimes.
Thank you for speaking with me, Vivienne. It has been a tremendous pleasure and I will keep hoping to get invited to dine with you soon (Hint, hint).
Business contacts for Adala Catering &Events
Phone: +256 785 836301