French-African fusion cuisine breaking down cultural barriers
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French-African fusion chefs are combining their culinary traditions to offer foods that celebrate the richness of France's blended heritage. Two chefs reveal how their culture influences their cooking and their recipe for social impact.
When you enter the kitchen of Vanessa Bonogo, tucked away in a local community centre in Paris' 20th district, bubbling and sizzling noises greet you upon arrival.
The French-Burkinabé chef is preparing maize donuts with shrimp and crème brûlée with hibiscus – her specialty.
"Hibiscus comes from Africa, now it is widely used in European culture," Bonogo tells RFI, praising this "example of fusion cuisine that many people ignore".
The 36-year-old was one of several African chefs that took part in this year's Marmite d'Or food competition, an annual event promoting the power of a shared meal.
The French-African chef reckons her double culture is a plus when it comes to bringing people together.
"I’m a French cook but with my African background I can put African flavour into French food," she says referring to her crème brûlée hibiscus with ginger meringue on top.
"Normally when you make crème brûlée you just make crème brûlée, that’s all, and I decided to put something on the top. That is the double culture."
Bringing cultures together
Bonogo discovered the Marmite d'Or competition through working in a school. Her food was so tasty that it caught the eye of the competition's organiser Robert Fopa, who asked her to participate.
"We've been hosting the Golden World Recipes competition [Marmite d'Or] for 30 years now," explains Fopa, president of the international association of culture without borders.
"The aim is to foster social cohesion. Cooking brings different cultures together. Because if I see what you eat, I’ll know who you are," he tells RFI.
For him, this all senses experience is more than just individual ingredients. It is about bonding and finding remedies to social exclusion and discrimination.
"Living together means coming together around the same table, around a set of recipes, because these recipes tell you the origin of a person, which at times is often neglected," Fopa insisted.
A point of view shared by chef Jean-Claude M'Bae from the Comoros, who was chosen by judges for his dish of tuna and mushrooms in coconut milk.
Power of a shared meal
"I'm originally from the Comoros, but I was born in Marseille. Cooking Comorian food allows me to connect with my roots. I can’t say I am just French or African. I am both and this double culture is incredibly enriching," he told RFI.
People in Comoros usually have a seafood diet, eating foods such as lobster, crab or shrimp.
But on this occasion ahead of the competition's final round, M'Bae prepared a dish called 'Madaba', essentially cassava leaves in coconut milk accompanied by perfumed rice.
"Meal times are sacred," reckons the French-Comoran chef, whose culinary journey began at an early age from watching his mother in the kitchen.
"Whether it's in politics or religion, each time mankind has faced an important event, it has always taken place around a dinner table.
"When you’re sat at a table, you try to get to know the person next to you. Even if you don’t know them, you’re still going to exchange a few words. That’s the power of a shared meal. Eating together is a sign of peace."
M'bae came runner-up in the Marmite d'Or competition, which in the end was clinched by Bonogo.
One day, she hopes to cook for the president of Burkina Faso, wants people to feel the food like she does and the roots behind it.
"I hope that they will remember my food," says Bonogo. "When I was a kid in Africa, I remember my mother gave me money to buy rice in peanut sauce, and I still remember the taste of this food until now."
Bonogo's next stop is Italy, where she is hoping to fill its culinary landscape with fusion inspired by both her French and Burkinabé backgrounds.
"My hope is that people will still remember my food in ten days, twenty days."
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