The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.
Mick Élysée is a Congolese and French chef. He trained in Toulouse before setting up his restaurant La Gascogne there with a friend. Mick has over 18-years experience cooking in private members clubs and five-star hotels across the world. Mick now runs monthly pop-up restaurants in London serving up his unique blend of ‘Afro-fusion’ cuisine. He also cooks once a week on the programme Barao Afrika, which you can watch on the channel Voxafrica.
Why did you decide to become a chef?
It all started with my mum. She’s a great cook and we used to spend a lot of time together in her kitchen. Later on, I decided to become a professional chef. So I went to school in Toulouse, France and trained with a famous French pastry chef called Yves Thuriès, who passed on his love for the profession. That was 15 years ago and over the years, cooking became a real passion. First, I learnt French cuisine and then how to prepare pastries, which became my speciality. In Africa, we are not so into pastries, so I decided to focus on cuisine.
As an African, it was important to help people discover my roots through cuisine.
When I finished school, I opened a French restaurant in Toulouse with a friend. That restaurant was called La Gascogne but we closed it after two years and decided to move on and do something else. During the time that our restaurant was open, I had realised that as an African, it was important to help people discover my roots through cuisine. So I tried to introduce a bit of a refined African taste. But back in those days, people were not so open to that kind of experimentation.
I then started travelling, in an attempt to discover what the world had to offer and new ways one could work with spices and flavours. I went to Canada, Brazil, Japan and ended up in London. As soon as I arrived, I realised that I should be based in London.
My vision was all about using many different types of African produce, including all types of African vegetables.
I started helping out in a small French restaurant before I went to work at the London destination, Sketch, under the famous chef Pierre Gagnaire, then at Haymarket with Robin Read, another famous chef. I even worked at Soho House and other places in London but African cuisine was always missing in those restaurants.
How did you refine your concept of ‘Afro-fusion’ cuisine?
I had a new vision around what other chefs had done with ‘Afro-fusion’ and that vision was all about using many different types of African produce, including all types of African vegetables. I started to mix French, Asian and African cuisines. I found a way to make the mix a bit more open, a bit more palatable because I had got early feedback that sometimes African cuisine can be a bit too strong a taste or a bit heavy.
I am always looking for the unusual, for recipes that never existed before.
When I imagine a dish like crocodile sushi, I am making it obvious that my African roots are still there, even though sushi is (for most people) the definition of Japanese food. I got inspired by sushi but I made an effort to twist it a bit and adapt sushi to my African roots. I am always looking for the unusual, for recipes that never existed before, for tastes that people have never experienced. My signature is my peanut butter soup. In the end, all my dishes have a story: an African story.
Who is your African of the year?
I am from Brazzaville but love the work of Chéri Chérin, the painter from Kinshasa. He is so skillful and his paintings are so real, so expressive.
Check out more at mickelysee.com
Tweet at him @mickelysee
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