African chefs’ innovative interpretations of traditional tastes

Africa’s fine flavours are deliciously diverse and awesomely ancient. Until recently, our continent’s gastronomic glories were served as home food or at simple street stalls but seldom in elegant restaurant settings.

Home or street food can be wonderful but it is a different kind of wonderful from restaurant haute cuisine. And the world wants both.

The good news is that chefs, working in Africa and overseas within the New African Cuisine movement, are increasingly introducing innovative interpretations of our continent’s traditional tastes into their restaurant repertoires.

African restaurant chefs seldom receive the recognition that they deserve. In recent years, some wonderful cookbooks, such as Nompumelelo Mqwebu’s Through the Eyes of an African Chef, have won prizes but very few of the writers have an actual restaurant that diners can visit.

It’s almost Christmas and time for travelling and tasty treats. We hope that our guide to the best New African Cuisine restaurants worldwide will inspire you to explore our continent’s epicurean excellence.

John Goffin
Super stylish chef John Goffin

John Goffin – Poivre Noir, Kigali, Rwanda:

Chef John Goffin’s casual but superstylish Poivre Noir bistro was recently described by the New York Times as “the best spot to taste the creative fusion that marks Kigali”. Goffin says that he finds inspiration in “the high quality of Rwanda’s ingredients which are all around us”. Signature dishes include ravioli stuffed with wild dodo (amaranth) with Musanze mushrooms and fromage du Kivu.

Makda Harlow – Taqueria Africana, London, England:

Eritrean-born Makda Harlow first gave east African flavours an über-innovative shakeup at her multi-award winning Lemlem market stall.

She recently opened Taqueria Africana restaurant where she serves fusion taste treats, including cod loin with awaze hot sauce-infused yogurt and korosho (crispy dried injera) tostadas.

Sweet-toothed types adore the bun (coffee), sha-sha ginger cookies, coffee and popcorn ice cream. The Lemlem Margarita made with watermelon, tequila, lime and mitmita (chilli, cardamom, cloves spice blend) has also been a huge hit.

Siyabulela Kobo – Kobo Cuisine, Maboneng, Johannesburg:

Siya Kobo takes the traditional tastes of the Eastern Cape on exquisite epicurean adventures. He says: “As a chef I always want past and present, modern and ancient, to talk to each other in my cooking.

“Each taste should take diners on a journey of memory. I try to take people with me into a story.”

His signature dish, umphokoqo, keeps the traditional Xhosa tastes and textures of crumbly-style mealiemeal and amasi (fermented milk) but also sets whey into sour jellies, whips bouffant curds and garnishes with skokoko ribbons.

Mourad Lahlou
Moroccan cuisine Chef Mourad Lahlou

Mourad Lahlou – Aziza, San Francisco, US:

Casablanca-born Mourad Lahlou was raised in Marrakesh. Now based in San Francisco, the chef with arms sheathed in trendy tattoos recently reopened Aziza restaurant.

It takes Moroccan cuisine in a modern direction with dishes such as seared fennel-crusted tuna with toasted tahini. In 2010 Aziza became the first Moroccan restaurant in the US to receive a Michelin star.

Dieuveil Malonga
Travelling foodie chef Dieuveil Malonga

Dieuveil Malonga – Restaurant Malonga, Paris, France:

Last year, chef Dieuveil Malonga was ranked sixth by Forbes magazine in its 30 Under 30 African top achievers. He was described as “the Congolese chef whose start-up is taking African cuisine to the world”.

When he is not feeding the gourmet glitterati in his eponymous Paris eatery, Restaurant Malonga, Malonga travels across Africa staging posh pop-ups and compiling a continent-specific spice map.

His signature achu soup transforms this central African classic into a pheasant and nasturtium broth with Cameroonian achu, penja pepper, rondelle and pèbè spice.

John Mshana
Deep love chef John Mshana

John Mshana – Hatari Lodge, Arusha, Tanzania:

John Mshana is the head chef at Hatari Lodge in the Arusha National Park in Tanzania. He works extensively with east African heritage ingredients, including Arusha stingless bee honey, African horned cucumbers and Red Masai sheep. He says: “I have a deep love of Tanzania’s indigenous oyster nuts which we call ‘kweme’ in Swahili.” His signature sweets include a glorious kweme and cacao tart.

Fathi Reinarhz – Epicure, Sandton, Johannesburg:

Burundian-born chef Fathi “Coco” Reinarhz’s Pan- African menu takes the continent’s heritage ingredients into an über-elegant space. Menus change seasonally but expect exquisite innovation such as deconstructed Senegalese Thieboudienne or a delicious dessert of Ivorian-style fried plantain aloko topped with a swirl of tuile biscuit and a quenelle of ruby bissap rouge (hibiscus) sorbet.

The African diaspora comes home with Caribbean style at the bar in the form of a glorious Haitian rum and west African ditakh fruit cocktails.

Pierre Thiam
Busy chef Pierre Thiam

Pierre Thiam – Nok, Lagos, Nigeria and Teranga, Dakar, Senegal / New York, US:

Senegalese-born chef Pierre Thiam divides his time between Dakar, Lagos and New York. In the Big Apple he offers contemporary, west African-influenced cuisine at Bistro Teranga and through Pierre Thiam Catering.

In Lagos, he is the culinary creative director at Nok by Alara. He says: “Our aim [at Nok] is to show that African food can be elevated and presented in a contemporary setting without losing its identity.”

Signature dishes include palm fruit soup with cocoyam dumplings and yaji (a Nigerian suya spice mix), shrimp with a trio of ofada heritage rice balls. Seemingly unlimited in his epicurean energy, last year also saw Thiam take on the role of executive chef at the Pullman Dakar Teranga hotel in Senegal.

Kobus van der Merwe – Wolfgat Restaurant, Paternoster:

Chef Kobus van der Merwe’s tiny Cape West Coast eatery was named the Best Restaurant in the World at the World Restaurant Awards in Paris in February this year. The menu offers what the chef calls “new Strandveld cuisine” and makes extensive use of foraged indigenous ingredients. Superseasonal, but expect the unexpected in dishes such as smoked angelfish with slangbessie, soutslaai and spring flowers or the magnificent mabele dessert with local weissbier and strandveld honey-topped winterweizen. 

Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen  –Restaurant Jan, Nice, France; Cape Town and the Kalahari:

Originally from Middelburg in Mpumalanga, Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen now explores his Cape-Dutch, Huguenot and boerekos epicurean ancestry in France. Restaurant Jan in Nice has one Michelin star. He does this with tasty treats such as burnt butter honey buchu madeleines or mosbolletjies with Cape Seed loaf and whipped biltong, miso butter. He recently opened Jan Innovation Studio in Cape Town and plans a restaurant at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve.

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