Earlier this year I tried Congolese food for the very first time at the hands of skilled Chef, Mick Élysée (click here to find out more). Since then he’s gone on to launch his own collection of spices called Ya Somo Spice Blend. This range is specially made to add a touch of flavour to each meal, be it with vegetables, fish, chicken or other meats.
Chef Élysée is driven by a desire to redefine the representation of African food outside of the African continent. Our food can be and is fine dining cuisine. Our food is both tasty and healthy. With regular pop-ups and talks, this chef actively demonstrates the truthfulness of this. I wanted to find out more.
What is you’re the earliest memory associated with cooking?
My earliest memory is from my childhood. I was always in the kitchen with my mum, not because I loved cooking but because I loved food. I learnt from her. As a professional, my earliest memory is of making mistakes. When you first start any job, you want to try new things and in trying you often make mistakes. It’s those things I will never forget about being around food.
Does any of the recipes you learnt from home influence your recipes now?
I rework some of the foods that are part of my culture in a professional way. I didn’t really learn African cuisine when I was younger. I learnt French cuisine. I now use French techniques to develop my own version of African cuisine.
What challenges have you faced in your career?
There has been a lot of challenges. One of the biggest is to encourage people to accept my style of cuisine, Afro-fusion. My view is to place African cuisine on an international table which isn’t easy. I’m working on this. Most European people see African cuisine as too different from their own foods and because of that its difficult to have restaurants somewhere like Mayfair.
How are you overcoming this challenge?
I keep promoting Afro-Fusion, keep pushing. I organise pop-ups because the more I do, the more people accept it. I do a lot of pop-ups, I do a lot of talks, I do a lot of cooking shows. I want to show people that African food is amazing and healthy. That’s another problem. People think African cuisine isn’t healthy but actually its one of the healthiest. I’m trying to change misconceptions.
What is one of your favourite foods to prepare?
I love to cook fish. Anything around fish is my thing. Although I’m not the best at it, I also like to cook Saka-Saka, it’s a Congolese meal from cassava leaves.
Tell me a little more about the Ya Somo Spice Blend collection.
Ya Somo means supreme, the highest. I came up with this idea because Africans love food, the world loves food. Now food is trending. People are also wanting to eat earthier. The most important thing is to put flavour into food. My spices aren’t just for flavour, they’re also very healthy. It’s a combination of that flavour and the health.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
Firstly, and this may be the most important one, focus and love what you do. Being a chef is a very difficult job. When you’re young you don’t really notice it, but this job needs a lot of dedication and focus. So you need to love what you do and surround yourself with good people. You’ll spend more time at work than at home. You need to be around people who will train you well. Never quit. If you want to become a successful chef, you cannot quit. The most successful people are not the most talented people, it’s the most persistent people.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I see myself in Africa. I want to run a cooking school where I’ll train young chefs in everything from cooking, catering and hospitality. I want to see Ya Somo going forward and to see my spices anywhere and everywhere.
Chef Élysée will soon be sharing tasty ways we can use Ya Somo spices in everyday meals. Watch this space.
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