As the world marks International Chef day, Alkamba Times is celebrating one man who is revolutionizing culinary art in the Gambia and west African sub region. The Gambia’s international award wining chef, Saikou Bojang is a trailblazer who has won many global accolades for his extraordinary skills in gastronomy.
The six time international award winning chef is the President of the Gambia chef association, Ambassador for best of Gastronomy in the Gambia and a career coach, running a young chef mentorship program with a glowing pedigree to be reckoned with.
International Chefs Day is observed all over the world on October 20 every year to celebrate chefs and spread awareness about eating healthy.
Every year, a theme is decided for International Chefs Day — in 2020, it was ‘Healthy Food for the Future,’ and the same theme is being repeated this year with a deeper focus on sustainability and ensuring healthy environments for future generations.
Dr. Bill Gallagher, a renowned master chef and former president of the World Association of Chefs Societies (Worldchefs), established International Chefs Day in 2004.
An executive culinary expert, Chef Bojang has worked in over 10 countries and led teams on big events in the UK and many other countries.
In an Exclusive chat with The Alkamba Times, Bojang said, The international Chef’s Day began back in 2004 to promote food values and link chefs across the globe.
“It brought awareness to all about what we really are. Working tirelessly with passion to satisfy your taste buds and nutritional benefits. We are the engines of any hospitality industry through food, the Gambia gains 30% GDP from tourism which is the highest single sector contribution and chefs play the largest part in it,’ He said.
Asked about Gambian Cuisine, Chef Bojang said: “ Our traditional Gambian gastronomy is healthy and cost effective if valued and adopted. Our chefs are very talented but still not recognized by our society, we get used and abused. We have a rich bank of culinary icons in the Gambia who have been destroyed by employers . Any Gambian Chef who gets lucky to travel is well respected and excels super fast, which is the opposite in the Gambia, our own home.”
Chef Bojang’s goal is to change narratives around the role of Gambian chefs.
“Taking our cuisine back to it’s good old healthy and nutritious dishes, is my goal . and as a leader, I am going from school to school to help inspire the young ones in shaping the culinary mindset that would bring our revive cuisine to attract food tourism in the Gambia. I am now helping to open up minds in the use of traditional and indigenous dishes presented in modern style for international standards.”
The Gambia chefs association is the only national team that has won all international competitions for 3 consecutive years in a row under Mr Bojang’s tutelage as President of The Gambia Chef Association.
“We are currently holding the trophies of best chefs for west Africa, best chefs in pastry, best chefs in starter dishes and this was all with the use of our Gambian cuisine such as Yassa, Churai Guerteh, Goron sup and domoda.
During the pandemic, we embarked on feeding Frontline workers at the borders to complement the governments efforts in the fight against Covid 19 ,” He told Alkamba Times.
But this effort comes with immense challenges, which has frustrated many young chefs looking up to Chef Bojang.
“We struggle so hard to get air tickets to represent the country. We mostly have to fund ourselves from our own individual pockets. As we speak now, we have a team set to defend our championship in Liberia and need only 7 tickets but still cannot secure a single one with just three weeks to go. We wrote to ministries and other offices but have received no response yet. We lack support unlike sporting teams that get immense attention whilst raising the country’s flag high across the globe.” Chef Bojang said.
Unlike most other modern professions, chefs have played a significant role in our society since the beginning of time. Food is a basic need, and experiments with food have been going on for thousands of years.
In the first century A.D., a Roman gourmet called Marcus Apicius wrote the world’s first cookbook. His book was named after him: “Apicius,” also known as “The Art of Cooking’.
The Book contains more than 400 recipes, and Marcus traveled great distances to secure the ingredients.
After 20 years of cooking in over a dozen countries, Chef Bojang returned to the Gambia in 2017 to rectify that imbalance and has since led the country to gold in three categories at the prestigious African Food Festival, including Best Chef and Best Dessert.
For Bojang, helping to amplify West Africa’s traditional cuisine means preventing the culinary brain drain that has afflicted the region in the past.
Today, he travels West Africa, teaching upcoming generations of chefs to honor their culinary heritage and cook their ancestral foods without reservation. Chef Bojang’s culinary approach to food is a crucial decolonization of the gastronomic intermarriage.