His name has been buzzing around Kigali for some time now. Top chef and food entrepreneur Dieuveil Malonga is bringing his African roots and European kitchen experience together into whole new flavors and taste sensations.
Dieuveil Malonga (28) calls his signature dish Homeland, which he presents as a colorful and elegant plate, mixing different mango varieties prepared in various techniques with avocado cream, moringa, prawns and his special Soweto-sauce, a blend of peanut, tomato and spices. This dish, the ingredients of which can vary depending on the location, reflects his personal journey leading him from Africa to Europe and back to his Homeland. “My style is still evolving, as I learn and experiment every day.”
Malonga was born and raised in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) until personal circumstances brought him to Germany as a young teenager. From here he eventually started his culinary training and career. Young Malonga quickly made a name for himself as a talented chef working at Michelin-starred restaurants in Germany and France. He was a finalist of the prestigious Basque Culinary World Prize in 2018 and was ranked 6th by Forbes magazine in their 30 Under 30.
Respect the ingredients
When working in Europe, the memories of childhood smells, flavors and cooking kept luring Malonga back to Africa. After a number of years of traveling back and forth experiencing culinary highlights from different parts of Africa, the celebrated young chef now divides his time between Kigali and Paris working as a chef consultant and staging exciting pop-up tasting dinners for foodies in both cities. “Making Kigali my home in Africa was a personal choice”, he says. “The city is green, safe and clean and centrally located in Africa. I also like the ambition in this country.” Malonga laughs: “I have never seen so many talented young people who are CEOs.”
He spends a lot of time learning about the market, visiting and interacting with local agro-entrepreneurs and farmers. “As a chef, I have to be knowledgeable about food and respect the local ingredients”, he says. “Food is emotion, it comes from our soil and it tastes different everywhere. I am still learning every day about vegetables and spices here, for example, the many different varieties of beans in Rwanda and how the volcanic soil impacts the taste of vegetables.”
Food with a story
Over the years, Malonga has developed his own Afro-fusion cuisine, an eclectic and jubilant modern take on African traditional dishes, combined with a healthy dose of personal spirit. His dishes include plantain ravioli, tree-tomato sorbet, variations on traditional dishes like jollofrice, isombeor achuand sweet desserts with African chocolate, coffee and ginger. His passion is to bring his culinary art to the world stage ánd to change the narrative of African cuisine.
“I believe that (Sub-Saharan) African cuisine will become the new global trend”, Malonga says. “People in Europe, they don’t know much about African food culture. Some may even think Africans are just surviving on rice and beans.” He chuckles. “But this continent has so much to offer. Local ingredients and flavors have important stories to tell. Traditional dishes are prepared to celebrate important life events. For example, the Bamileke in Western Cameroon prepare a sticky dish called Nkuito celebrate the birth of a child. It contains twelve different condiments and is served to the mother for 30 days, so she can regain her strength. You see, all over Africa, people are mixing local spices in soups and stews and use interesting techniques with wood-fire or fermentation.”
Malonga likes to share stories about his own culinary experiences during his travels to West and Central Africa. His eyes light up when he talks about spices like penjapepper, tchobiand pebenuts. When asked about his own comfort food, he doesn’t hesitate: “Without a doubt, Isombe. The Congolese version, with dried fish and shrimp.”
Chefs in Africa
There is more to Dieuveil Malonga than just his art in the kitchen. During his travels, Malonga encountered many talented local chefs but in his daily work as a consultant and chef, he also met organizations and restaurants owners who complained they could not find a good chef. So, in 2016 he founded Chefs in Africa, a digital platform that aims to cultivate the talent and culinary passion found in Africa. Through this platform, Malonga connects institutions, training centers and businesses with professional chefs and young culinary students who are looking for work experience. “We offer this network to help them get their career started” says Malonga. “Sometimes the visibility will help them find employment, others may need our support to get access to internships, scholarships or just for visa applications.”, he says. “Changing the narrative about African food is also about changing the narrative about African chefs.”
So, what will the future bring for this ambitious young chef? In the near future, Malonga plans to establish a Food Lab in Kigali, an informal, open space that can be used for cooking, dining, education and creation. “I like creating and working with people”, he says. “Who knows, maybe I could create the business class menus for Rwandair? That would be a great honor.” When pressed further, he reveals his big dream for the future, which is to have his own modern African culinary school one day. “But I still have much to learn before this can happen”, he says with a smile.
This article was published in Inzozi Magazine, September 2019. Cover photo by Chris Schwagga.