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This chef visited 48 African countries to create a new ‘Afro-fusion’ cuisine

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Dinner at Meza Malonga is not just a meal – it’s a tour of the African continent. Delicately plated dishes feature Nile perch from Uganda, Algerian olive oil, and penja peppers from Cameroon.

Combining ingredients and food cultures from different countries, founder and head chef Dieuveil Malonga has created his own “Afro-fusion” cuisine that he says embodies the heritage and traditions of a vast and varied continent – and that he hopes can spark a culinary “revolution” in Africa.

“Africa has an amazing diversity of food,” says Malonga. “The world doesn’t know about the ingredients and amazing recipes we have.”

Born in Brazzaville, in the Republic of Congo, Malonga grew up in Germany and began his career in some of Europe’s best Michelin-starred establishments, before embarking on a two-year trip around Africa to find inspiration for his restaurant. Settling in Kigali, Rwanda, he opened his eponymous restaurant in 2020 with the goal of platforming African recipes and ingredients.

While his restaurant has received recognition for its culinary artistry, Malonga’s ambitions are not just for himself – but the entire African dining scene.

After setting up the digital platform “Chefs in Africa,” which to date connects over 4,000 aspiring chefs and culinary professionals to career opportunities and skills development, Malonga decided to take education into his own hands and created a training school in his restaurant.

Hoping to produce the next generation of culinary pioneers, Malonga is on a mission to create the foundations of an innovative fine-dining scene on the African continent that can rival Europe’s – but with its own, distinctive, African flair.

“The school of grandmothers”

At Meza Malonga, the approach to fine dining is different from Europe’s, says Malonga.

“I was trained and worked at Michelin-star restaurants in Germany, and then southern France, but my concept is very different,” says Malonga, adding that the culture in Europe was one of exclusivity and competitiveness. “I focus more on education.”

“If you want to go far, you must share with people,” he adds.

His Afro-fusion cuisine has been shaped by this philosophy of sharing. Malonga visited 48 of the 54 African countries in a bid to better understand the diverse traditions, dishes and ingredients.

“I would go into the villages and go to meet the grandmothers, because they have amazing, old techniques,” says Malonga, who adds that his love of cooking comes from his own grandmother.

These village matriarchs shared their local delicacies and family recipes, teaching Malonga regional fermentation and preservation processes in what he calls “the school of grandmothers” – a very different kind of education to the more formal one he received years earlier at a culinary school in Münster, Germany.

Combining his Euro-centric training with his experiences of African cuisine, Malonga developed his signature style. West African fare from Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Ghana, and traditional dishes from ethnolinguistic groups such as the Maasai, Bantu, and Zulu, feature heavily in his cooking, although Malonga does not restrict himself.

By using the overlap in flavors and spices, ingredients or preparation processes, Malonga says he can create a cohesive experience of multiple cultures in a single dish.

“Food doesn’t have a border,” says Malonga. “Many things are connected, and that helps me to be creative – that’s all in my cuisine.”

Global recognition

While North African cuisine, like Moroccan and Egyptian fare, has been a mainstay of the global dining scene for decades, West African cooking has received less attention – but interest has been growing in recent years.

Nigerian restaurant Ikoyi became the first Michelin-star West African restaurant in the UK in 2018, and the meteoric success of Chika’s, a multi-million-pound UK snack brand that highlights Nigerian flavors, shows a growing appetite for West African food. In January 2021, the “Fufu Challenge,” a TikTok trend that asked viewers to film themselves eating fufu – a starchy dough often made from fermented casava – and thick, stew-like egusi soup for the first time. While the trend caused controversy and a backlash from some in Africa, it also sparked interest in West African cuisine among US internet users that has continued since.

“People are now open to new experiences, and African (food) is now coming onto the market,” says Malonga, adding that the international fine dining scene is becoming more varied.

“When I was young, people were only talking about European cuisine. And then came Thai dishes, Asian cuisine, and now South American. Next will be African cuisine – that’s why we are preparing the market,” he adds.

Recognition from international award bodies like Michelin and 50 Best Restaurants of African restaurants abroad help to elevate the continent’s culinary reputation, says Malonga – but he’s eager for these awards to pay more attention to African cuisine in Africa.

“It’s very important to promote the food culture, restaurant scene, and products in Africa. (Awards have) helped many countries in Europe and elsewhere, and I hope that maybe that will be the same in Africa,” says Malonga.

Michelin still doesn’t cover the African continent, and in 2022, just one of the 50 Best Restaurants were awarded to a venue in Africa, compared to 29 in Europe. But Malonga was recognized by the 50 Best as a “champion of change” in 2022, and in March he was nominated as one of the new candidates for the Best Chef Awards Top 100.

A food revolution

Malonga’s dedication to education is evident in his latest venture: a purpose-built “culinary innovation village” in the rural, northern district of Musanze, Rwanda, expected to open in late 2024.

This $1.5 million training-school-meets-restaurant is the evolution of the Meza Malonga concept, where Malonga hopes to continue his “food revolution” by connecting with remote and underserved communities. The school will increase the number of students he can teach, and Malonga hopes to see more students come from other countries across Africa.

And the new venue will offer Malonga a chance to further explore and refine his culinary art. Situated on the banks of Lake Ruhondo, it will provide access to fresh fish, and it’s close to the three-hectare farm that Meza Malonga already sources its vegetables from, where the fertile volcanic soil creates a bountiful supply of local produce.

“I like organic products – it’s very important for me to follow the whole process,” says Malonga, adding, “for me, Africa is the garden of the world.”

“It makes me proud to see what is happening now with African cuisine and the exposure we are getting,” he says. “The next food revolution is already here.”

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