Three Questions For ... Chef Pierre Thiam
Senegalese Chef Pierre Thiam.
You recently co-produced the AfroEats Festival in Senegal. Please tell us about it.
AfroEats was held in Dakar from April 30th to May 5th. It was a rendezvous of chefs, nutritionists, and agro-industry entrepreneurs around the African table. The goal was to showcase the cuisine of Africa through workshops, panel discussions, degustations, demos, and a culinary tour.
It’s been an old dream of mine to bring chefs from all over the world to my country. The idea was to introduce them to what’s cooking in Africa. There is so much that’s still untapped when it comes to African food, and the irony is that Africa plays a major role in so many great cuisines of the world (southern cuisine, Brazilian, and Mexican, to name a few…)
A dozen chefs came from not only New York and France but also from Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Senegal. A culinary tour was designed for the participating chefs, in order to introduce them to the source of Senegalese cuisine.
We went with traditional fishermen in high seas to get fish, we visited food producers and markets; we collected salt at the pink lake known as Lac Rose, we also had lunch at a monastery where monks prepare, from scratch, their own goat cheese as well as different spreads, sauces, jams and organic juices. We ate lots of local food. For the last evening of AfroEats, all the chefs got together and prepared a feast using only local ingredients. Among the New York delegation were chefs Anita Lo, Dave Arnold, Eric Simeon, but also food historian Jessica Harris.
What is your earliest food memory?
It must be the grilled lamb parties in Senegal during the Tabaski celebration. It’s a Muslim holiday where each household slaughters a lamb. Our preferred way of cooking it was very simple: barbecued over wood charcoal and served with sliced onions and Dijon mustard.
If you could work in the kitchen of any chef in the world for a day, whose would it be and why?
It would be Pierre Gagnaire -- without any hesitation. I always admired him for his style of cooking and his personality; he is not pretentious and has unequaled talent.
I was fortunate enough to be invited into his kitchen by the man himself. (I happened to know the maître d' of his Champs Elysée restaurant). Pierre Gagnaire is a humble giant and my hero. His kitchen is a temple.
Pierre Thiam was born and raised in Senegal. He lives and works in New York City, is the owner of Pierre Thiam catering, and the author of Yolele, an IACP award-nominee.
Thiam is interviewed by Jody Eddy, a food writer, cookbook author, and culinary travel leader, among other things. Jody’s book Come in We’re Closed, was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2013.