This month the Star of the month is Saikou Bojang, born in Kafuta, raised in Brikama on the south bank of The Gambia. He found his passion in cooking. He worked as an executive chef in ten different countries. A couple of years ago, he returned to his home country, The Gambia, with many cooking experiences to share with his fellow sisters and brothers.
What drives Saikou? Saikou shares with you as Star of the month his vision, experiences and future plans for The Gambia.
I worked as a receptionist in a hotel in England. I enjoyed working in this environment while I studied to become medical personnel. One day, the only breakfast chef from the hotel got sick. I did not wait and volunteered. I mastered the whole kitchen while the breakfast chef was gone. The management of the hotel saw me as a good fit in the kitchen. I was promoted; I could call myself a cook.
The management believed I had great talent. They supported me in doing a cooking course at college. After college, I was lucky to have gotten a scholarship to do professional cookery up to University Degree in menu engineering and gastronomy in England. I later completed my Master’s Degree in Paris. This is where my story in the kitchen really started.
After my studies, I worked as an executive chef in over ten different countries. I was successful as a chef, won prizes in various cooking competitions all over the world and worked for the Royals in the UK. While living the good life in Europe, I felt that I really wanted to do something for my home, The Gambia. That is why I came back home to showcase my skills and help improve the culinary skills of the cooking students and performing chefs in The Gambia. The Gambia has many delicious dishes that are not exposed or sold out to the International market. In my opinion, this has to change!
In 2017, I started working for the Senegambia Beach Hotel. I was employed to train the staff on modern cuisine and techniques. While working for one of the biggest hotels in The Gambia, I still had the dream to uplift the Gambian food to the international market. An opportunity came when I was asked to coach two younger chefs for the West Africa Cooking Competition. I won a lot of different competitions during my career. Oh yes, I was proud. But nothing made me prouder than the trophies the young Gambian chefs won in Ghana during the West African Cooking Competition!
I want to coach young chefs to become better than me. Give them career advice and guide them to the international market. I am here to coach the youth on how to become serious about their passion. In that way, they will be able to be successful in what they do.
As the president of the Gambia Chef Association, I care for chefs and businesses in The Gambia, from young to experienced chefs and small to big food businesses. I am here to help everybody who will spend their own time to prepare and provide unique and good food. I walked into many kitchens in The Gambia to give advice about structure, menu cards and food hygiene measurements. I believe together with students, chefs and business owners; we can put the Gambia on a high culinary level. The Gambian kitchen has a lot to offer!
I have an idea that has been in my head for many years now. I wish to open a kitchen where I can train young Gambians in cooking techniques and different hospitality skills. Let’s not forget basic food and hygiene training and allergy and food tolerance training. I was able to study and get all this knowledge. I am open to sharing this knowledge. I would like to make my fellow Gambian cooks better and stronger wherever they go as a chef. I wish to be able to train one young chef per year to become an executive chef in The Gambia or abroad.
The fire in me is to make young cooks and chefs better. I wish to inspire others who then will inspire me again. Inspire to be inspired is my motto! My greatest success is when young chefs do really well in their jobs and can teach and inspire me new things. That is an important drive that makes me wake up happy and eager every morning!
We meet Saikou in his very own training ground. The training ground has a kitchen and around five tables for customers to come and try the food. The name of the training ground is Spice Hub, located in the heart of Senegambia. (Kololi new road, opposite Tropic Shopping Centre) Saikou hasn’t changed. He still wears his chef uniform and has a big smile on his face. He starts to talk about his journey, about the obstacles he has faced in the last three years. This journey has taught him that The downfall of a man is not the end of his life. It taught me that whatever you want, you can get. If you put a lot of effort, time, passion, and seriousness towards it, you always make it. You just need to start something to be able to get to where you want to go to.
In June 2022, I was able to open my own restaurant that suits as a training ground where I have already trained ten youngsters who are now working in the kitchens of hotels and restaurants or who joined the cruise ships. Currently, I am training another six youngsters to work in the kitchen, serve or work in the bar. My success reflects in the success of my trainees. One of the trainees I have trained at my restaurant/training ground got 2nd in the West African Cooking Competition in Ghana against over 150 seasoned chefs across the sub-region. She only spent three months in the kitchen in her entire life before going up for the competition. This makes me so proud and gives me the fuel to keep pushing my mission.
I train the youngsters about our heritage cuisine and how to prepare it in a way that is attractive to the eyes, with the right texture and how to play with the food to make it look international. We do not slap the Yassa sauce on a plate here. We separate the juice from the onions and stock the chicken full of onions before grilling. After grilling the chicken, we cut it open and add the juice.
Gambian heritage cuisine deserves an international podium. The Gambia could be a place for culinary tourism. The tourist wants to try our authentic Gambia dishes without the famous Banjul belly (running stomach). But how do we do that? By teaching our youngsters the right cooking methods, presenting and serving the food. I am willing to contribute to this with my time, knowledge, and skills. Because people deserve to try the delicious food that our Smiling Coast of Africa has to offer. And that isn’t spaghetti Bolognese or Chicken and chips.
The dream I am working towards having a big land where I can build my training ground in the middle of a vegetable garden and animal yard. So I can teach them about organic gardening and farming and how to use these products in the kitchen to make a delicious Gambian heritage dish.
Do you know the famous saying? You are what you eat; when you eat great food, you become great. Come and eat at Spice Hub! Spice Hub is open seven days a week. You can find them in the street opposite Tropic Shopping Centre.