The African Entrée, by Maria.

It’s good to be different.  Why fit in, when you were born to stand out.

Question:  Does a Sierra Leonean Seven Course tasting menu sound interesting?

Before talking about the idea of an African entrée, I need to talk about Afro-fusion and the concept of meal structure.

Afro-fusion cooking is not just about combining African ingredients with ingredients sourced from other continents.  It’s about fusing contrasting culinary traditions and techniques into a single dish but also taking the best from different cultures to make something extra special or add a bit of “je ne sais quoi”.   The City in which I was born has a rich history, with precolonial and colonial influences which have resulted in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious configuration which has quietly left a truly remarkable, fascinatingly colorful, untold story on the food history of our planet, partly due to the transatlantic slave trade.  In the coming years I intend to tell this story as I put the puzzle together piece by piece.  I hope (during the time that I have) I will put Sierra Leone firmly on the world food map, or provide a platform on which others can build and do so.  This story needs to be told.

The importance of cooking techniques

They say the foundation or cornerstone for great chefs begins with classic French techniques, from basic knife skills to more complex, classic recipes and the curriculum at most prestigious culinary schools is often based on the classics.  Whilst I have attended culinary school, this is not where I learnt to cook.  I learnt to cook in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa and like many African girls, my training started age 9.   I’m proud of that.  I am a proud African.

My kitchen is all about the reinvention of traditional Sierra Leonean dishes, fused with the finest fresh and sustainable ingredients, sourced from local suppliers. I tend to use locally sourced produce, and have taken the time to build longstanding relationships with suppliers who place emphasis on quality and uniqueness. When I cook I aim to combine these tasty ingredients with a precise attention to detail to ensure the best possible dining experience for whoever I am catering for.

One reason Culinary schools focus on the classics and french classics in partifcular is because of the unique techniques used in classic French cooking.  The French developed a real understanding of ingredients, cooking methodologies and the science of cooking. The French have come up with amazing techniques like flambeing, braising, poaching, and sautéing. These add an incredible burst of texture and flavor to meats, vegetables, and other ingredients.

In this post I want to talk about meal structure, and introduce my love of the African Entrée, and perhaps entice you to hire me for my Sierra Leonean seven course tasting menu.

The African Entrée

When thinking about the structure of a meal we have a couple of options.  We can go for the traditional approach consisting for a sit down meal consisting of three courses and usually starting with the entrée, followed by the plat principal or main and then dessert. Alternatively we can do something a bit more free form, like a tapas style structure taking influence from the informal serving styles of Asian and Spanish culture.

The word “entrée” as a culinary term first appeared in print around 1536 in France.  It’s not a concept that is African but we have such a rich variety of flavors and ingredients I think we can take this concept to the next level.   After all, Africa is the final frontier of food, right?

At my supperclub and private dining events I have begun to introduce the concept of the African Entree.  And it has become a specialty but I often need to work a little harder to convince my fellow countrymen and women.  In fact it is the younger generation that are more open to the notion that you can make a meal of starters, yet sadly it’s usually the mother-in-law or father-in-law with a hand in their child’s special day that cannot imagine a wedding without Jollof rice.

“How on earth would people get full on small plates?”  

Some people are just not happy unless they have eaten rice or heavy carbs, but for me, the tri-partition of a meal seems increasingly archaic and coercive. These days, when I’m presented with a menu that invites me to pick a starter, main and dessert, I often end up choosing three dishes from the starter section, sometimes to the chagrin of fellow diners who find this approach an affront to the rules of the game.

I sometimes find the main course an unnecessary burden. The most quirky and inventive bits of a menu are almost always to be found among the starters, while mains feel like little more than bulky obstacles, especially if you are socialising with friends, talking, drinking, conversing and having a good time with a larger group.

Many chefs have ditched traditional menus in favour of multi-course servings of small plates (with all the pitfalls that may occur when chefs have free rein). But it’s not just in the upper echelons of gastronomy that a different approach is becoming more common. Whether it’s the remixing of Asian cuisine in the US or Venetian-style tapas dining in London, menus now tend to ditch the traditional categorisation of dishes and instead offer diners more freedom to dictate the rhythm of their meal.

This is the concept of ‘The African Entrée’ and trust me, if you hire me for a private dinning event or wedding and choose this option, your guests will be full.  The ‘haters’ may gossip about you being different or not living by our communities standards, but deep down they will know that “Di it na, shwen shwen” and they will wish they had the courage to do the same.  I’m encouraging you to be bold, or italic.  Never regular.

Be Shwen Shwen.

Maria. MBK