Baking Earned Saava a Papal Hug, Presidential Tip

June 4, 2014. Prossy Nakibuule is introducing her American fianceacute, Greg Bice, to her parents in Bunamwaya, Ngobe.

As the food plates are cleared at dusk and a beautiful cake is delivered, the spokesman calls for the “ladies in charge of the cake” to prepare for the cutting ceremony. Two young men step forward and expertly juggle knives and wine-glasses.

Three days later at the same couple’s wedding reception at Pope Paul VI Memorial hotel, the same suited gentlemen step out and take charge of the cake-cutting ceremony. I pick interest usually this is the reserve of females so, days later, I retrace my steps to the Bunamwaya homestead. One of the young men is Stephen Muganzi. He has baked both cakes in question.

His grandfather, Stephen Saava, 77, is a renowned baker and has the secrets behind some of Uganda’s most famous cakes under his belt. He has also passed the gift down to mainly his sons and grandsons. The Saava girls can bake, because they have seen Saava Sr do it all their lives, but the jaw-dropping cakes ironically come from the Saava men, in a society where the kitchen is still considered oestrogen territory.

Saava is the man who baked a wonderful chocolate fruit cake for Pope Paul VI when the pontiff visited Uganda in 1969.

“That cake earned me a hug from the Pope! He asked if the cake was really baked in Uganda and I said I made it. He praised it and even hugged me and blessed me,” Saava says in his Bunamwaya home shortly after his granddaughter, Nakibuule’s wedding.

Years after the papal hug, Saava also baked President Yoweri Museveni’s cake at his first swearing-in ceremony in January, 1986.

“The cake weighed about 300 pounds it took seven men to carry it. It was a map of Uganda showing all the districts and Lake Victoria. I remember Museveni was holding a gun, but he dropped it to praise the beauty and taste of my cake. He was so impressed he told me to make an appointment with his secretary to see him in Entebbe. I went to State House and he gave me 50,000 Kenya Shillings (about Shs 1.5m today). That was a huge tip!” Saava, who speaks impeccable English, recalls.

So renowned were the Saava cakes that in 1993, he was at his oven once again, this time whipping up a cake for his cousin, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi’s coronation ceremony. Kabaka Daudi Chwa – Mutebi’s grandfather, and Prince Yusuf Ssuuna Kiweewa – Saava’s grandfather, were brothers and comrades in the King’s African Rifles. Kiweewa’s only child, Nnaalinya Catherine Nkinzi who died in 2009, was Saava’s mother. The princess also had a daughter, Naava, who unfortunately passed away.

“That coronation cake was royal blue. I baked it with everything in me, because I was baking it for my brother. Even at his 40th birthday, I baked his cake,” Saava says with unmistakable pride.

Such formidable competition he was in Kampala that today, when those who know about his famous cakes are awarding contracts, “those Kampala women have resorted to telling them that I died! They know they don’t stand a chance against my cakes”.

But he thrives in his Bunamwaya home, where he is also a respected landlord, thanks to his royal blood. It is also in Bunamwaya that he has shared his heavily-guarded secret recipe with his sons and now grandsons. Saava’s son, Joseph Ssevume (RIP), baked Kabaka Mutebi’s wedding cake in 1999.

His other son, Daniel Kayiwa, who now lives and works in Turkey, is also an outstanding pastry chef who has baked some of Mutebi’s birthday cakes. Saava’s three daughters may not be renowned chefs like their brothers, but their sons such as Muganzi and Patrick Ssemwanga are also the hands behind some delicious cakes in Kampala. Ssemwanga was once a manager at Nando’s Kampala and is now with Hot Loaf Mbarara.

As the interview goes on, Ssemwanga walks in with a tray of omelette sandwiches and chicken snacks presented like they would be in a trendy restaurant. They taste as good as they look.

“We are amazing cooks,” the London-trained Saava states with no pretence at modesty.

Saava may now be retired, but his kitchen-savvy grandchildren, who also include Farouk Ssegawa, Nicholas Nsereko, Ivan Ddamba and Susan Nakiyemba, carry on the family vocation. In fact, all of Saava’s close to 100 grandchildren can bake. The boys in particular, do it professionally and dominate most of Uganda’s top bakeries and confectioneries.

“We can all hold our own when it comes to cakes. It is just that for the girls, the passion is simply not there it is the boys who live for baking,” Saava’s granddaughter, Irene Nantumbwe, 22, who has opted to study IT, says.

“I never eat cake at weddings unless I am sure it was baked by one of us. I was twelve when I first baked with jajja’s supervision,” Ssemwanga, who has never got formal culinary training, says. “I have never looked for a job my talent finds the jobs.”

Muganzi was eight in 1996, when he baked his first cake.

“In 2008 I went to the University of Livingstonia in Malawi (an affiliate of Johnson and Wales, USA) for three years, to improve myself. I have an associate degree in Applied Sciences in Baking and Pastry Arts,” Muganzi, who did the decoration and finishing on the Independence jubilee cake baked by the Sheraton hotel in 2012, says.

He too admits, cakes flow with the Saava blood. Baking and pastry art come naturally to most of them.

“At my cousin Nakibuule’s wedding, I got to the reception venue about three hours early with this perfect cake I had poured everything into, because I knew my family would be there and they are all good cooks and cake people,” Muganzi says. “But right at the hotel gate, the car hit a small pothole and the top three tiers collapsed. I don’t cry easily I never cried even when my father died, but that day, I wept inconsolably. I had to be taken away and calmed down.”

When his tears were dried, the hotel offered him a room and a few ingredients to fix the cake. When the guests were already seated at the reception, he carried in his purple and cream “improvised” cake and it still drew gasps.

“My uncle Daniel [Kayiwa, also the father of the bride] later said it was a wonderful cake and praised my creativity. That meant a lot because I started out under apprenticeship from him and our grandfather,” Muganzi says. The bride and groom also loved the cake.

Who is Stephen Saava?

“We have acquired international acclaim. I still supervise the mixing and colour technique sometimes, but they know everything. We use one recipe, passed down through generations. I plan to set up a place for them to do it as a family,” Saava says.

Born in 1937 in Kabowa to Princess Nkinzi and Basil Kato, Saava went to Aggrey Memorial School until S5, after which he joined Kyambogo Polytechnic to study motor mechanics, after which he secured a five-year contract with the government central workshop.

“That workshop was very big. It was along Old Port Bell road. We could even fix planes. I was good at my job so, I applied to the Morris Motor Company in England to further my mechanical skills and I was admitted in the early 1960s,” he says.

“But one day while in London at Muteesa House, the then Finance minister called Sempa asked why we the youth were not interested in the food industry. I had started on TV and radio mechanics, but switched to bakery.” He left Morris Motor Company and joined the Elephant and Castle, training for up to six years.

One of Saava’s proudest possessions is his command of the English language. When Saava returned, he worked with Kizito Bakers and was the first African to specialise in baking.

“I left Kizito Bakers to start Nkinzi bakery. Our bread was different from all, but we no longer bake bread because it is labour-intensive confectionery, on the other hand, is an art,” Saava says. “I then became the general manager of Masaka Bakers amp Confectioners. We did good work in a semi-automatic plant, but when the proprietor, [Leonard] Basudde, died, I came back to Kampala and started Saava Bakers amp Confectioners.”

However, earlier in 1957 he had started on another journey. While visiting his sick mother in Mengo hospital, Saava met a trainee doctor on duty, Margaret Nakato (now Dr Margaret Saava). He was 21 when he married her.

“My mother told me, ‘Stephen, you have to marry that girl.’ She even financed the wedding. I just sat back and turned up for the fittings,” he remembers with a smile. They have been married 57 years and are the model their grandchildren uphold in their relationships.

Saava’s secret to a long marriage? “My background. Plus, I love and respect women.”

His wife was away at her workplace at Makerere University Johns Hopkins University (MU-JHU) Research Collaboration, when I sat down with Saava for the interview. The couple has had six children together and 80 grandchildren and 50 great-grandchildren. Saava also had three children from earlier relationships, but they have since passed away.

Source : The Observer

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