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Stranded chef’s online cuisine classes help beat COVID-19 lockdown blues

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Stranded chef’s online cuisine classes help beat COVID-19 lockdown blues

Franck Kuwonu
From Africa Renewal: 
29 May 2020
Rima Amer
Rima Amer
Jute leaves-based sauce prepared by Chef Rima Amer.

Chef Rima Amer, Ivoirian and Franco-Lebanese living and working in Togo, found herself stranded in Benin when COVID-19 prompted border closures. Away from home Ms. Amer is sharing her traditional and modern African recipes by cooking live on Facebook to help her followers cope with staying at home. One of the most successful recipes, she said, was a jute leaves-based sauce, popular across West Africa.

Africa Renewal: Tell us a little about yourself?

Chef Rima Amer: My name is Rima Amer, I am Ivoirian and French-Lebanese. I am the General Manager and Chef at the Ahoefa King Salomon Garden Hotel in Lomé, Togo.

How long have you been a chef?

For seven years now. I initially graduated in corporate communications and advertising and I worked for 15 years in communications, in security and in the automotive industry before deciding to leave everything behind and devote myself to my passion- cooking - and make it my profession.

Do you have any formal training in gastronomy?

I am the daughter and granddaughter of chefs. I consider myself as self-made, even as I later enrolled in culinary courses.

Because of COVID-19, your restaurant is closed but you are now using Facebook to share your passion for cooking. How did it start?

I am not new to Facebook. I have been sharing my recipes on social media for quite some time. When I found myself stranded in Cotonou, Benin; away from home, I started making live cooking videos to help people beat the boredom and to have fun while discovering different facets of modern African cuisine.

Rima Amer
Chef Rima Amer

Do you spend a lot of time getting ready for the live shows?

I usually don’t have a specific recipe planned until the day. The idea is to share the recipe of a dish that I want to eat myself that day and then take my friends and followers on the cooking journey by allowing them to watch me cook. It can be one of my creative recipes, a traditional dish that I am revisiting or the inspiration of the day. Every day, I have a recipe idea and I livestream on Facebook as I cook. My followers and I discover these foods together. We live the experience together and above all it's a nice treat for them.

Beyond keeping followers’ company, are you trying to achieve anything else?

With my choices of recipes, I want people to discover or rediscover the history of Africa through its traditional cuisine.  Above all, I want to bring a modern gastronomic flair to some of our staple foods.

What has been the feedback so far?

Very good. I get very positive feedback. Some people have sent me some tips for improvement and others request for more videos.

Looking at all the cyber initiatives related to stay-at-home, would you describe yourself as being part of a larger movement?

The most popular recipe, Chef Rima said, was a green jute leaves-based sauce, largely consumed in West Africa. Called different names across the region: Crincrin (Benin), Ademe (Ghana/Togo), Kpalala (Côte d’Ivoire) or Ewedu (Nigeria), the leaves can be cooked with simple ingredients such as ginger, garlic, oil, salt, pepper and fish (dried or smoked) or beef chunks (pre-cooked). Chef Rima’s version includes additional ingredients as below:

  • Jute leaves, okra, tomato, onion and white eggplant
  • Ginger, garlic, chili pepper and shrimp powder
  • African mustard seed
  • Red palm oil
  • Dried salted fish, smoked fish and crab
  • Beef and beef rind
  • Bicarbonate of soda
  • Mixed spices (parsley, garlic, coriander), cloves, salt and pepper.  

Somehow, the stay-at-home situation has brought people together virtually. Our daily lives have suddenly become collective. This allows social reconnecting in societies that up to now were, more or less, individualistic.

Apart from the constraints that staying at home imposes on us, this has enabled real social cohesion on virtual networks and allowed us to remember human values that we may have forgotten.

All these initiatives allow us to get together, raise awareness, show solidarity and above all, share. So, yes, I am part of this overall movement that contributes to our civic, moral, human and psychological development.

Is there a lesson you have learned from this experience, a reflection or a message you would like to share with the rest of the continent?

This experience has allowed me to see the radical change in our lifestyles - human, health, environmental and relational. I was able to be introspective, question myself on the meaning of my life, look into my certainties and my relationships with others, my activities, my environment, my food and my health. In short, I was able to get back to basics.

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