Kenyan Chef Sempele shares his culture with a special seafood pilau recipe

After a decade spent cooking in the finest restaurants, the chef, food stylist, and tireless promoter of Kenyan cuisine reflects on his rise to the top. Here, he cooks for Amina Rabar while engaging in a wide-ranging conversation about the places he's been, the food he loves, and the one dish he could eat every day.

Chef Lesiamon Ole Sempele

"I choose Kenyan food because, first and foremost, I am Kenyan, and I have a passion to be the best at what I do," says Kenyan Chef Sempele of his culinary specialty.


That passion has served Chef Les, as he's commonly known, very well in the 10 years since he first picked up a chef's knife. In this exclusive interview and cooking demo with Kenyan TV presenter Amina Rabar, the Mastercard ambassador reflects on just how far cooking has taken him.


In his case, it has taken him to more than a dozen countries—during a year spent as a chef aboard a cruise ship—as well as the top restaurant kitchens in Kenya. It has also brought him into the orbit of some of the biggest luminaries in the food world—an experience that was hard for him to even believe at first.


"One of my fondest memories was cooking for Anthony Bourdain when he was in Kenya," Chef Les explains. "I got the call, 'How do you feel about hosting Anthony Bourdain at the restaurant?' and I even hung up because I thought it was a prank call."


Fortunately, the caller was persistent, and Sempele was able to impress the late chef and TV personality with his take on Kenyan cuisine. Bourdain wasn't the only celebrity craving a taste. Musicians 2 Chainz, Ne-Yo, Akon, and many others have all taken a seat at his table, underscoring his belief that the food of his country is ready for the world stage.


But Sempele also believes that Kenyan food is for everyone, not just those who visit his restaurant. "I want to teach people how to be better cooks at home and elevate Kenyan food culture," he says.


To that end, he has three simple rules for cooking: "Always taste your food while you are cooking, use great-quality ingredients for great-quality food, and prep before you cook."


All three of those rules are helpful in making the chef's seafood pilau, which he demonstrates in detail below. "We are keeping it local and giving it a bit of a twist," he explains. "We're going to make our own pilau masala."


His passion for cooking rich, elegant dishes like this is undeniable, but Kenyan Chef Les has plenty of love for simple recipes, as well. "If I had to eat the same meal every day, it would be rice and beans, or R&B as we call it," he says. "That's the way to go."


Seafood Pilau


Serves: 6

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cooking Time: 30 minutes


Seafood Stock Ingredients:


  • 500 g prawn shells
  • 2 cups white onions (2 chopped)
  • 1 pc fennel
  • 1 pc carrot
  • 1 pc leek
  • 1 pc celery stalks
  • 2 parsley stocks
  • ½ cup of white wine
  • 1½ cup of water
  • Salt & pepper (to taste)


Pilau Ingredients:


  • 2 litres of vegetable oil
  • 3 pcs red onions
  • 2 pcs ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 pinch cumin powder
  • 1 pinch of cinnamon powder
  • 1 pinch of garam masala
  • 1 pinch of turmeric powder
  • 1 pinch of clove powder
  • 1 pinch salt & pepper
  • 1 bottle of soy sauce
  • 1 can of tomato paste
  • 10 pcs tomatoes
  • 1 kg basmati rice


Seafood Stock Ingredients:


  • 350 g mussels
  • 350 g calamari
  • 350 g parrotfish/white snapper
  • 500 g queen prawns


Preparation of Stock:


  • Heat oil in a pot. Add onions, fennel, celery stalk, leek, and parsley stalks and sauté for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add prawn shells.
  • Deglaze with white wine and fill the pot with water. Season well with salt and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil, then simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes. Set aside.


Preparation of Seafood Pilau:


  • Heat oil in a pot. Add onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes on medium-high heat.
  • Add ginger and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add pilau masala (listed spices) and cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes, constantly stirring to ensure spices don't burn.
  • Add tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes and cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add basmati rice and stir gently to allow spices to incorporate.
  • Add seafood stock and boil, leaving a cup aside to cook the seafood. Boil the rice for about 12-15 minutes.
  • In separate pan, heat the butter, sauté garlic, and add peeled prawns and mussels. Add the seafood stock, cook for 2 minutes, and set aside.
  • Add the seafood to the cooked rice and gently mix using a fork.
  • Cover the rice and steam for 10 minutes.
  • Serve hot with Kachumbari/salsa.


Check out the exclusive interview and cooking experience with Chef Les only for Mastercard cardholders right here on