Interview with Chef Christian Abégan
Born in Cameroon, Christian Abégan has become the benchmark for African cuisine. He has been showing off his skills ever since he graduated from “Le Cordon Bleu” school in Paris. After graduating, he returned to his country of birth, from where he then embarked on a long culinary exploration which took him from Central Africa, Douala, Brazzaville, to Southern Africa with Pretoria and Antananarivo, through West Africa, Dakar, Lomé and even meeting up with African diasporas in the USA and the Caribbean.
Within traditional African culture, he found a plethora of culinary heritage from which he draws his inspiration. From his very first restaurant ‘Chez Abégan’ in Cameroon, to the restaurants that he runs in Paris, Christian Abégan offers recipes drawn from his research into this culinary heritage. This touch of originality can be seen through the mixing of flavours, tastes, tradition and modernism – a unique signature which was rewarded in 2009 when he won the Trophy for Excellence in Afro-Caribbean Cuisine, awarded by the “Comité National de Prestige Paris”.
In France, he has become the most sought-after chef for major events spotlighting Africa and African culture. Beyond his unmissable dishes, Christian Abégan is an unselfish man, sharing his experiences, providing help and advice; he sees this as a way to continue his legacy. It was a natural step for him to become the head of the jury for the TV show Starchef, the first culinary programme to be shown in 28 African countries. Offering new flavours, seeking out new taste-combinations, revisiting traditional dishes… This is what Christian Abégan offers through his modern approach to African cuisine.
Chef Abégan, you have significantly contributed to the increased popularity of African Cuisine throughout the world. How did you become a chef? What inspires you?
As far back as I can remember, I have always been cooking, long before I joined the Cordon Bleu School in Paris.
My experiences cooking during my childhood gradually turned into a passion for cooking, and Cordon Bleu equipped me with the tools to try – and succeed, let’s be honest – to create an evolving blend of French and African cuisines.
Africa has an amazing resource of orally-transmitted recipes spanning back over thousands of years .
How do you encourage a healthy and balanced diet through your cuisine?
I don’t just talk about healthy and balanced diets, but also about responsible consumption. I encourage people to eat produce that is free from chemical substances, which are spread all over our continent by the globalised industrial food companies.
Our continent has an abundance of quality produce which is currently under-used, and which is often instead replaced by products from these companies, often full of chemicals….
I want to make people aware of this, and of the health risks associated with dietary choices.
In your opinion, what are the advantages of fair trade, and of a greater focus on local farmers?
This approach to agriculture will help reverse the exodus of young people towards the big cities. Fair trade helps create a balance between the city and countryside, with the countryside bringing healthy and balanced food produce to the city dwellers. Raising awareness and using quality African products, which are produced through fair trade, will allow local markets to develop and become part of the wider international market.
The labelling and guarantees provided by fair trade organisations also help preserve biodiversity, and these types of organisations allow everyone to find their own space in the market.
You fight for food security and good nutrition for African children and you are an ambassador for the World Food Programme. Could you tell us a little more about your commitment to food security on the African continent?
“A plate is a prescription for life “….
Food Security on the African continent is a measure of health for current and future generations.
When we are not confronted with crises or famine, we don’t always realise the essential nutritional needs that are required for continued development.
Our eating habits can help build a healthier and more sustainable world.
The situation with children is, for us, the most crucial aspect. It’s an issue of conscience: they have to have a healthy and balanced diet, without vitamin deficiencies, in order to enjoy a normal development.
The WFP has developed special programmes to fight malnutrition and to help avoid infant mortality, a scourge of areas suffering from food crises.
What are you working on next?
I already have a lot of ideas for projects, especially projects connected with training.
I am working with hotels in order to make them aware of responsible consumption and how they can use more local products, a catalyst for development, health and the protection of biodiversity.
There are also many other projects under consideration.