Dieuveil Malonga loves grandmothers. His own, who in the Congo transmitted his passion for cooking to him, and those he met across the continent, to learn from them the secrets of African gastronomy.
This Congolese chef, who traveled through Germany and France, draws on their traditional knowledge to create his “afro-fusion” cuisine, which has been noticed in his last years.
“I travel to different countries, I learn from grandmothers and then I take these old recipes and I bring them to my laboratory here and I try, with my chefs, to bring a touch of modernity there”, explains- he told AFP a few minutes before the time of the shot in his restaurant in Kigali, Rwanda.
From his travels in 38 African countries, the 30-year-old chef brings back techniques, such as smoking and fermentation, but also spices and condiments. Small peppers from Côte d’Ivoire, pèbè nuts from Cameroon and other mbinzo caterpillars from the Congo occupy an entire wall of his restaurant.
If Afro-fusion has existed for “a very, very long time”, the calm and discreet Malonga admits having contributed – alongside other chefs such as Senegalese Pierre Thiam – to put Africa on the map of foodies around the world.
“Something is happening now in Africa, and people are interested in knowing more about African cuisine”, assures the one who co-founded the “Chefs in Africa” platform, regretting that this gastronomy is often reduced “to rice, mafé, (chicken) yassa “.
“There is immense diversity. Take the example of Nigeria (…) in one day you can eat more than 20” types of food.
– “Business class” –
Dieuveil Malonga was born near Brazzaville, in the Republic of Congo, where, despite the death of his parents, he lived “a very happy childhood within a very united community”, underlines his website.
At 13, he was welcomed in Germany into the family of a pastor and joined a renowned cooking school in Münster.
“I like to eat, I eat all the time,” he explains, laughing. “I come from a family that loved and celebrated food.”
Graduated and noticed during competitions, he worked in several German restaurants, including the triple Michelin-starred Aqua in Wolfsburg, then in France, at the Intercontinental hotel in Marseille. But something is “missing”, so Malonga leaves to travel for two years in Africa. “The key to what’s happening to me today,” he explains.
Falling in love with Rwanda, a hilly and fertile country with a very mild climate, he opens Meza Malonga there in 2020. The “Malonga table”, in Kiswahili, attracts a clientele of affluent locals, expatriates and tourists – for a total bill of around 130 euros.
On that day, the 10-course menu includes sweet potato marinated tuna, cassava powdered shrimp and coffee espuma with peanut crumble.
Passionate about products, the chef likes to wander the alleys of the Nyamata farm, one hour from Kigali, where he stocks up on aromatic herbs and edible flowers. A “chance”, which he would not have in Europe, he admits, tasting a few leaves here and there and asking a thousand questions to the owner Laura Tomini.
Very proud to see “stars in his eyes” when he collects his products, Laura marvels at the quality of the restaurant, where she had the opportunity to dine.
“It gives the feeling of being in business class,” she smiles, referring to the dishes, but also the service.
– Tweezers –
By 2023, Dieuveil Malonga wants to go “higher, create something big” by opening a new restaurant in the very rural region of Musanze (north), at the foot of the Virunga volcanoes and their famous gorillas.
More upscale, more expensive, the second Meza Malonga will be both “an experience” and a “village of culinary innovation”, where most of the food will be produced on site, but also a training center.
In Kigali, Malonga works with ten young cooks, mainly Rwandan but also Burundian, Ugandan, Tanzanian, who, while preparing the room or meticulously setting the plates – with tweezers – praise his ability to withdraw and ” allow to create “.
In Musanze, the chief apprentice wants to train many more, recruited from across the continent, to continue the transmission.