TAT Gambian Trailblazers: Chef Saikou Bojang – Culinary Pioneer and Advocate for African Cuisine

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Chef Bojang

By: Awa Conteh 

This week on Gambian Trailblazers, we are delighted to feature Chef Saikou Bojang, a luminary in the culinary world and an inspiring figure for many aspiring chefs in Africa. Chef Bojang is renowned for his extraordinary kitchen skills and dedication to promoting Gambian and African cuisine on the global stage. From his modest beginnings in Brikama to cooking for the British Royal Family, Chef Bojang’s journey exemplifies the power of passion, perseverance, and cultural pride.

 

Born in Kafuta and raised in Brikama, Chef Bojang’sBojang received his early education at Pirang Primary School before he moved to the UK to pursue a degree in biomedical science. However, his path took a fortuitous turn when his passion for cooking led him to study professional catering at Reading College. 

Reflecting on this transition, Chef Bojang told The Alkamba Times: “I had to dive into culinary arts, which opened up new opportunities and led me to a professional catering degree.”

This pivotal decision set the stage for a series of remarkable achievements. Chef Bojang’s talent and dedication earned him scholarships to further his education, resulting in a BSc in Menu Engineering and Gastronomy from Westminster University and a master’s degree from Le Cordon Bleu in France. His expertise and innovation soon caught the attention of prestigious establishments, leading to roles with Hall & Woodhouse and even an invitation to cook at Buckingham Palace.

 

Chef Bojang’s experiences at Buckingham Palace and with celebrated chefs like Heston Blumenthal have profoundly influenced his approach to cuisine. This blend of high standards and cultural sensitivity has become a hallmark of his culinary style.

 

“Working at Buckingham Palace shaped my understanding of elite cuisine and the importance of diplomatic protocols and confidentiality,” he told TAT. 

 

Chef Bojang’s greatest accomplishment is his relentless promotion of Gambian cuisine. He has proudly showcased traditional dishes such as Benachin, Yassa, and Chura-Gerrteh at international competitions, bringing home numerous awards and raising awareness of Gambian culinary traditions. 

Chef Bojang

Mr. Bojang’s leadership extends beyond the kitchen. As the co-founder of the African Chefs Alliance and the West African Chefs Alliance, he has played a pivotal role in uniting chefs across the continent. These alliances have created platforms for chefs to showcase their heritage cuisines and exchange ideas, fostering a sense of community and collaboration.

 

“Being able to raise my country’s flag and attract more awareness to Gambian cuisine and chefs is one of my proudest achievements. My vision has always been to bring back our traditional cuisines and showcase them on a global stage,” he explained.

 

His dedication to mentorship and training is another cornerstone of Chef Bojang’s legacy. Through his restaurant, Spice Hub, Chef Bojang has created a training ground for young chefs, helping them develop their skills and pursue their culinary dreams. He passionately believes in the power of discipline, attitude, and passion as essential ingredients for success in the culinary world. 

 

Chef Bojang’s journey has been challenging. He faced racial and financial obstacles, societal skepticism, and personal doubts about his career choice. However, his unwavering determination and commitment to his craft enabled him to overcome these hurdles. 

 

Our trailblazer’s advice to young chefs is rooted in his own experiences. He encourages them to embrace their heritage, develop their skills, and approach their careers with the right mindset. 

 

“If you think of the skills, money will chase you. If you chase jobs for the rest of your life, you will never be steady anywhere,” he said. 

 

Chef Bojang’s efforts to promote African cuisine extend far beyond Gambian borders. He has been instrumental in organizing food expositions and competitions across West Africa, creating opportunities for chefs to showcase their talents and learn from one another. The West African Food Festival, which brought together over 200 chefs, is one such initiative that highlights the diversity and richness of African cuisine.

Chef Bojang is at work in his Spice Hub Restaurant.

His work with the African Chefs Alliance aims to break down barriers and foster collaboration among chefs from different countries. Chef Bojang hopes to create a unified African culinary identity that can compete globally by sharing traditional recipes and techniques. 

 

 “We can now start working towards standardizing our African cuisine to suit the international platform and to be sold on the international market. My utmost goal would be bringing African chefs together to become outstanding,” Mr Bojang said.

 

Innovation is at the heart of Chef Bojang’s culinary philosophy. He believes in combining traditional ingredients with modern techniques to create unique and exciting dishes. This approach not only preserves cultural heritage but also appeals to contemporary tastes.

 

His creativity and dedication to excellence have earned him numerous accolades and recognition. Chef Bojang led The Gambia to victory in international competitions for five consecutive years, consistently bringing home trophies and setting new standards for culinary excellence. 

Chef Bojang with Kora Player Sona Jobarteh

Looking ahead, Chef Bojang envisions a bright future for African cuisine. He believes that as more people recognize African dishes’ nutritional value and unique flavors, the cuisine will gain prominence on the global stage. 

 

He also emphasizes the importance of collaboration and innovation in driving this growth. By integrating different culinary traditions and modernizing traditional recipes, Chef Bojang aims to create a dynamic and evolving culinary landscape that can compete with the best in the world. 

 

“I return to the grandma cuisine, using the heritage ingredients to provide or produce beautiful and innovative dishes of heritage Gambian cuisine. My creativity has stood out and has already spoken for itself,” he proudly stated.

 

Chef Bojang’s commitment to mentorship is evident in his hands-on approach to training young chefs. He regularly visits schools, conducts workshops, and invites aspiring chefs to his restaurant to learn from his experience. He aims to inspire and empower the next generation to pursue their culinary dreams confidently and passionately. 

 

He also stresses the importance of developing a solid foundation of culinary skills and knowledge. Chef Bojang hopes to equip young chefs with the tools they need to succeed by providing opportunities for practical training and exposure to different culinary traditions. 

 

Reflecting on his journey, Chef Bojang takes immense pride in his achievements and impact on Gambian cuisine. His contributions have been significant and far-reaching, from being named one of the 100 most influential persons in African food tourism to leading major culinary organizations. 

 

His restaurant, Spice Hub, serves as both a culinary destination and a training ground, embodying his commitment to excellence and education. Chef Bojang continues to inspire and nurture the next generation of chefs through this platform, ensuring that Gambian and African cuisine remains vibrant and influential.

 

“Being an entrepreneur now, which has never been my dream, having my training kitchen, and being a household name are my biggest achievements,” he shared.

 

Chef Saikou Bojang’s story is a powerful reminder of the impact one individual can have on their community and beyond. His dedication to showcasing Gambian cuisine, his leadership in the culinary world, and his commitment to mentoring the next generation of chefs make him a true Gambian trailblazer. As he continues to break barriers and set new standards, Chef Bojang’s legacy will undoubtedly inspire many more to follow in his footsteps.

Chef Bojang’s delicious meal

In the words of Chef Bojang, “Let’s go back to who we are to find ourselves a better home in our better bodies. If you eat good food, you become good. If you eat heritage cuisine, you become an indigenous African.” This ethos encapsulates his life’s work and his vision for African cuisine—a future where tradition and innovation harmoniously coexist to create a rich and diverse culinary heritage.

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