Meet the child chef cooking up a storm in Kenya

·4-min read

SCENES shines a spotlight on youth around the world that are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze, as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.

Alvin Keffa Liona wanted to surprise his mother with breakfast in bed at seven years old. It was his first attempt at cooking, so he mimicked what his mum did every morning and cooked scrambled eggs. To his mother's delight, Alvin's eggs were delicious.

"My mum smelled something nice cooking from the kitchen. She saw me cooking and was surprised. But first, she wanted to see if I had burned anything or if the house was on fire," Alvin recalls. "When she tasted my eggs, she congratulated me and told me that I have a talent for cooking."

Moses Obuye
Alvin taught himself to cook and mastered multiple cuisines - Moses Obuye

Learning to cook

Alvin taught himself how to cook over the next few years with his mother's encouragement. He mastered multiple cuisines and loved experimenting and creating his own mouth-watering dishes. "I don't really know what sparked his cooking, but I know he really enjoys it. From the time he started, he's just been trying out new recipes," says Alvin's mother, Perry Kanana.

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close worldwide. The same was true in Kenya, but Alvin saw this as an opportunity to develop his talent. "I used to research recipes on YouTube and try to see which ingredients could be found in Kenya," Alvin explains.

Moses Obuye
Alvin experimenting with dishes and training his younger brother at home in Nairobi, Kenya - Moses Obuye

Scouring the supermarkets, Alvin would replicate recipes. If he couldn't find the ingredients or the items were too expensive, he would swap in alternatives. The need to be resourceful helped him understand the science of cooking and the art of creating flavours.

"As a parent, sometimes we sit and think that our kids can't teach us, but it's actually the opposite. We learn a lot from our children, and I'd say for sure he's taught me a lot. There are a lot of things that I can now cook because I've learnt from him," says Perry.

Moses Obuye
Alvin and his mother, Perry Kanana, pose in their kitchen in Nairobi, Kenya - Moses Obuye

Keff the Wonderboy Chef

As a proud mum, Perry would film her son cooking and upload the videos to social media and food blogs, boosting Alvin's profile. Fascinated by Alvin's talent, people began to reach out, and word of the wonder chef soon spread to those in charge of the Club Kiboko, a children's talent TV show on Kenya Television Network.

Despite being nervous, Alvin accepted the offer and began showcasing his skills on national television. "I was kind of afraid because it was my first time being on camera, but I started getting courage when people would congratulate me because they saw me on TV," he recalls.

Alvin encouraged children to cook by baking cakes and to create meals. "When kids would tell me that they wanted to cook too. I felt happy because I was inspiring kids my age, which is hard," he adds.

Moses Obuye
Alvin launched a cooking club at his school in Nairobi, Kenya - Moses Obuye

Shifting mindsets

Now aged 13, Alvin's talent has led him to become one of Kenya's celebrity chefs. Despite gaining popularity across the country, Alvin still faces social challenges stemming from the archaic belief that boys should not be in a kitchen.

Alvin launched a cooking club at his school in Nairobi to shift mindsets. "In the cooking club, I show my peers how to cook, and I show them techniques that I use. I want to remove the mentality that cooking only belongs to girls. I myself believe that it belongs to both genders," he states.

Moses Obuye
Alvin teaching his peers how to cook in the cooking club in Nairobi, Kenya - Moses Obuye

The cookery classes have been a huge success. Almost half the boys in the school have asked to join the club, leading teacher and club patron Judith Ochido to restrict the number of male students who can join. "Maybe there's a stereotype that boys don't like cooking, but they love it. They are zealous to know more about cooking and really want to know how it's done," says Judith.

Moses Obuye
Alvin with the school cooking club and club patron, Judith Ochido, in Nairobi, Kenya - Moses Obuye

Becoming the next Gordon Ramsay

Celebrity chef and restaurant owner Gordon Ramsay is Alvin's idol and he's hoping to become as talented as him. He dreams of becoming a household name and owning restaurants throughout the world. "My dream is also to have a teaching institution where I teach children how to cook because it's hard to find institutions where children can learn how to cook," he says.

Alvin, also known as Keff The Wonderboy Chef, is an award-winning chef after taking first prize in the Kids Kitchen Club Challenge and the title of 2020/2021 Junior Ambassador of NNEdPro.