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Africa Month: The chefs shaping African cuisine

African cuisine is splashed with a complex array of influences, ingredients, and inspirations. But, as with much of history, the contributions of some groups are under-appreciated, or overlooked.

In honour of Africa Month, we look at some of the chefs who are shaping the narrative of African cuisine. Africa’s contemporary chefs need no wordy introduction.

Across the continent, from South Africa, Kenya to Congo, down to Zambia, professional chefs are plating Africa’s traditional flavours at home and on the international table.

You have probably heard of Bertus Basson or Zola Nene, but here are six other chefs you may not know, but definitely should – big names in the game that help shape African cuisine.

Mokgadi Itsweng

Mokgadi Itsweng.

Raised in Mamelodi in Pretoria, Mokgadi Itsweng studied law, then advertising. But it was while working a catering job, as a side hustle, that she realised her true passion.

Following her dreams, Itsweng packed her bags and escaped to New York, where she worked at the legendary South African restaurant Madiba, in Brooklyn, and studied at Peter Kump’s cooking school.

She returned to Johannesburg in 2001 and cut her teeth as a chef, ultimately opening her own restaurant, Lotsha Kitchen and Cocktails, four years later.

Itsweng has recently released a cookbook called “Veggielicious” in which she has reworked South African recipes with plant-forward passion. She describes the cookbook as a “plant-based offering from the garden of my dreams”.

Raphael King’ori

Raphael King’ori.

Born in Kenya, Raphael King’ori grew up fascinated by how simple ingredients turned into great meals in his mother’s kitchen.

Naturally, after his high school education, he signed up at the renowned Kenya Utalii College in Nairobi, and interned at the Carnivore Restaurant in Kenya and, from there, he never looked back.

Chef Raphael loves to share knowledge on all matters of food. This led him to publish recipes on social media, through the now popular step-by-step images and videos on recipes.

His greatest strength is curating “home-made food” recipes, using locally available products and ingredients. King’ori says by developing recipes that are easily incorporated into Kenyan and African households, increasing utility becomes organic.

Vusi Ndlovu

Vusi Ndlovu.

Vusi Ndlovu gained local and international recognition when he ranked among the top seven at the San Pellegrino Young Chef finale, in 2018.

Ndlovu now co-owns a restaurant called Edge Restaurant. With a focus on underutilised ingredients and recipes passed down over generations, the restaurant is a holistic celebration of Africa.

The menu, conceptualised by him and inspired by his own heritage, is an ever-changing curation of dishes that highlight indigenous ingredients, reimagined in a contemporary, minimalist, and respectful way.

These dishes pay homage to Ndlovu’s past experience and curiosity, as well as the rich history of this great continent.

Dieuveil Malonga

Dieuveil Malonga.

Malonga is a Congo-born, Rwanda-based chef and entrepreneur. Malonga specialises in afro-fusion cuisine, a culinary art he describes as “a subtle blend of tradition and modernity” (a culinary bridge between African flavours and Western cuisine).

He says, every day, he aims at transcending African cuisine. At thirteen years, Malonga’s fortune took him to Germany where he was warmly welcomed.

There began a new life and also a very different one. Cooking and music soon became his tools of choice to express himself.

Lillian Elidah

Lillian Elidah.

Lillian Elidah is a Zambian chef, who is a graduate of the Cesar Ritz Culinary Arts Academy in Switzerland, and now owns and runs her restaurant Twaala, in Lusaka, Zambia.

Twaala Restaurant is a modern fusion restaurant that radiates customised vibrant decor and atmosphere, with an everyday mission to serve beyond the boundaries of taste.

Twaala Restaurant is founded on the basis of great food, extraordinary decor, and gourmet culinary skills.

Elidah says, in its intimate and exclusive hall, they aim to grow into a brand and an experience that goes beyond the boundaries of your ordinary culinary experience.

Mick Élysée

Mick Elysee’s recipe book, ‘Not Guilty’, is focused on dishes that are both delicious and healthy. Picture: Supplied

Mick Élysée is a London-based chef, specialising in Congolese-French and African food.

Élysée’s love for the culinary arts started when he was very young, in his home country of Congo. Now, he is a reference in the field of gastronomy in the UK.

In 2018, Mick joined the Smart Food campaign and contributed two millet and sorghum-based recipes that he is now promoting through various channels.

He says he is an artist and a chef, and diversity is what makes his art interesting.

This article first appeared in Saturday Insider, May 14, 2022

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