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When Worlds Collide: Kenyan Warriors Feast on Vegan Fare in NYC

Chef Matteo and the Samburu warriors pose for pictures in the Saveur test kitchen.

Chef Matteo and the Samburu warriors pose for pictures in the Saveur test kitchen.

How do four African warriors become the guests of honor at a private gourmet vegan lunch at the New York City office of one of the most-beloved food magazines around?

About a decade ago, former advertising executive Jane Newman set out on an epic adventure. But when her car broke down in Kenya and warriors in full tribal gear emerged from the bush, she didn’t know what to expect. It certainly wasn’t for the chief to ask her, in perfect English, if she needed help and to invite her to stay with his tribe until her car was fixed. So began Jane’s odyssey with the Samburu, whose kindness she’s spent the last decade repaying by raising money, through the Thorn Tree Project, for food and clothing, dormitories and educational materials so that the nomadic people’s children can attend school.

In New York for a fund-raiser at Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Center this Thursday, Chief George and three of his warriors visited our office at Saveur magazine yesterday and enjoyed what for them was an incredibly unusual feast, worlds away from their staple of cow’s blood and milk (yes, cow’s blood and milk). Chef Matteo of 4-Course Vegan prepared an incredible repast of yellow split pea soup with toasted sesame and chive sour cream, baby arugula Caesar salad with roasted garlic croutons and miso celery dressing, spring vegetable quiche with tarragon asparagus and smoky mushrooms, and for dessert, pine nut and fennel biscuits with Meyer lemon and chocolate mousse. If you’ve ever been to one of Matteo’s Saturday-night dinners, you know how amazing the food was!

During the lunch, Chief George told us about tribal justice, marriage customs, warrior initiations, and how odd it was to see people of so many different colors—and so many different kinds of dogs! (The Samburu have two, apparently, neither of which is of the small, yippy variety.) Then he and the other warriors performed a tribal dance and song (see part of it in the video below).

So how on earth did warriors from a cow-based culture in Sereolipi end up eating vegan with staffers from an omnivorous foodie mag? The credit goes to Clodagh, the vegan interior designer who conceived the magazine’s office space and wanted to celebrate the Samburu’s stay while making sure there was something for her (and by default, me!) to eat. Thanks, Clodagh!

To help the Samburu, you can make a direct donation—a little money goes a very long way. Or learn more about the tribe firsthand and get your hands on some African crafts at the bazaar and silent auction this Thursday night, starting at 6:30.

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