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Chef Coco… Changing African narrative through food

Coco Reinarhz is one of the chefs satisfying the taste buds of visitors to the Alkebulan dining hall at the ongoing Expo 2020 Dubai.

Coco Reinarhz

Coco Reinarhz is one of the chefs satisfying the taste buds of visitors to the Alkebulan dining hall at the ongoing Expo 2020 Dubai.

Meaning ‘Mother of Mankind’ or ‘Garden of Eden’, Alkebulan, which is the oldest name for Africa, is described as the world’s first African Dining Hall, a heritage Chef Coco is proud to be a part of.

In this interview with The Guardian, the widely travelled culinary connoisseur speaks about his experience at the African Dining Hall of the Expo 2020 Dubai, what visitors to the Alkebulan should expect, as well as his passion to change African narrative through food.

What has the experience been like at the African Pavilion of the Expo 2020 Dubai?
IT has really been an interesting experience for me. Alkebulan is really the definition of Africa, the sharing spirit and opulence on food, music and art.

What does it feel like being among the pioneer chefs at the Alkebulan, given that this is the first time that the African Pavilion is making its debut at any International Expo?
I really feel blessed and honored to be part of such a great and unique experience.

We learnt that Jollof rice and suya are amongst your street food offerings at the African Pavilion and as you well know, these are well-known Nigerian delicacies. What has the feedback been like from visitors that have tasted your jollof rice and suya?
Suya is definitely from Nigeria, but the Jollof rice I serve is the original Jollof from Senegal. But I love the way Nigeria and Ghana are passionate about the jollof rice.

How do you think your brand of jollof rice and suya will fare against the ones prepared by Nigerians?
I actually like the fact that all visitors like it and find it well balanced and flavorful, including Nigerians and Ghanaians.

Which other Nigerian food staples will you be showcasing at the Afro Street?
At Afro-Street and Choma, I am focusing on flavours, ingredients and experiences from a region rather than a specific country.

You have meals from about 6 to 7 countries on display in the Afro Street menu? How did you come about having an eclectic array of meals?
I really wanted to share my travels in our beautiful with the guests. How can I show any African region using a plate, without asking for a plane ticket, COVID test or visa!

What is your relationship with all the other African chefs who are also showcasing their African-inspired meals? Is there a spirit of collaboration or healthy competition or both?
We have that great African spirit of UBUNTU. It means I am because you are. We shine together!!!

You recently won a sustainability award. Can you tell us a bit more about the award?
I am really passionate about sustainability because we really have to think about how we are going to leave this beautiful planet to future generations and impact it positively by using our positions.

What would you want visitors to the African Pavillion to go home with?
I really want them to leave with the flavour of Africa in their mind and understand that Africa is more than just spicy food. We have to change the narrative on Africa and as a chef; I am using food.

Have you ever visited Nigeria for culinary business or even if for leisure? If yes, please tell us about your experience?
I have done so many visits to Nigeria to do food and wine pairing experiences. I have done consultancy work for some hotels and restaurants. I have been a judge for the Young Africa Chefs competition. I really love the vibrant and dynamic soul of Lagos.

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