Kigali (AFP) – Congolese chef Dieuveil Malonga learned his trade in Europe’s best restaurants, but says he owes his success to grandmothers across Africa, who passed down the gastronomic secrets that underpin his famous Afro-cuisine. fusion.
“I travel (in) different countries … to learn from grandmothers. Then I collect these old recipes and I bring them to my laboratory here and we try with my chefs to give it a modern touch”, a- he declared.
The 30-year-old from Congo-Brazzaville has visited 38 of Africa’s 54 countries, reporting on fermentation and other techniques, as well as ingredients that add texture and flavor to dishes served at his restaurant in Kigali , the capital of Rwanda.
The treasures sourced during his travels are everywhere in Meza Malonga (“The table of Malonga” in Kiswahili).
Garbage cans containing tiny peppers from Côte d’Ivoire, pebe nuts from Cameroon and dried mbinzo caterpillars from Congo fill an entire wall of the establishment.
Food experts have largely ignored the continent’s culinary heritage, with no Michelin-starred restaurant to be found on the continent.
But that may soon change, thanks to the efforts of chefs like Malonga, who co-founded Chefs in Africa, a website dedicated to promoting the region’s rising stars.
“Something is happening in Africa and people are interested in knowing more about African cuisine,” he said in an interview with AFP in his restaurant, a few minutes before the coup. sending the dinner rush.
He highlighted the diversity of African food, citing the example of Nigeria, where one can choose from more than 20 dishes every day.
– ‘I love to eat’ –
Malonga was born near Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, where, despite the loss of his parents at a young age, he enjoyed “a very happy childhood” in a close-knit community, according to his website .
At 13, he moved to Germany and lived with a family of pastors, later joining a renowned cooking school in Münster.
It suited perfectly.
“I love to eat, I eat all the time,” he said, laughing out loud.
“I (come from) a family that loves and celebrates food.”
After graduating, he trained at some of Germany’s best restaurants, including the three-Michelin-starred Aqua in Wolfsburg, before moving to France to work at the InterContinental Hotel in Marseille.
Despite his success, he said he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was “missing”.
So he returned to Africa and embarked on a two-year odyssey across the continent.
There he found “the key” to his new life, he said.
After falling in love with Rwanda – a fertile and hilly country with a mild climate – he opened Meza Malonga in 2020.
Here he says he enjoys searching for ingredients and meeting the people who cultivate the aromatic herbs and edible flowers used in his dishes.
The restaurant isn’t cheap – an average meal, including drinks, costs around $ 150 (130 euros) per person – but its patrons are happy to pay for an experience that blends traditional African ingredients with modern techniques.
On the day of AFP’s visit, the 10-course menu included tuna marinated in sweet potatoes, shrimp in cassava powder and, for dessert, a coffee mousse sprinkled with crushed peanuts.
Its clientele includes locals, expats and tourists, who line up for a meal as good as it tastes – with chefs using tongs to meticulously organize each dish.
Diner Laura Tomini said the experience made her feel like “business class“.
– The next generation –
By 2023, he hopes to “create something big” by opening a new restaurant in rural northern Musanze, at the foot of the Virunga mountain range and its famous gorillas.
He wants Meza Malonga’s second incarnation to serve as a training ground for the next generation of great African chefs.
In Kigali, the gentle Malonga works with 10 young cooks, mainly Rwandans but also Burundians, Ugandans and Tanzanians, who praise his openness to their ideas and his desire to make them shine.
In Musanze, he says he plans to recruit and train many more chefs, with the aim of transforming the continent’s gastronomic reputation.
© 2022 AFP