A Very Dark Secret…
For the past year, I have been holding a deep dark secret. I have finally grown comfortable enough to make this secret public. Bear with me as admitting this secret publicly sets me up for ridicule and alienation.
Since August of 2015, I have had a chef in my home. For my American friends, I am sure there will be ridicule and laughter. But for my African friends there will be crickets…and many saying so what!
His name is Olivier and he hails from the Republic of Benin, one of Nigeria’s neighboring countries. He is a French trained chef and during the day, works at one of the restaurants popular with expats and middle class Nigerians. A few days a week, he comes to my house to cook dinner and enough food to get me through the week. I thought when Sheila arrived, we might rethink Olivier but he has become part of our household. Recently, he went back to Benin for two weeks and we were completely lost…! We couldn’t wait until his return.
Having household help on the African continent is common practice. People often have a cook, a gate and/or grounds keeper, a nanny or a housekeeper. I became familiar with this practice when I visited Rwanda in 2009. We were celebrating Thanksgiving and my friend Myal asked me to make a sweet potato pie. When I entered the kitchen, the cook would not let me do anything. Each time I grabbed an ingredient, she removed it from my hand and asked what she needed to do…It was a bit frustrating but since living in Nigeria, I have become pretty comfortable in having a cook prepare my meals.
When my parents were in town, they fell in love with Olivier because he would not allow them to lift a finger in the kitchen. He cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even now when I talk with them they ask about “Oliver”…they had trouble remembering the French version “Olivier.”
Olivier has stepped in a few times to help us with providing food for events but recently we held our first dinner party since getting married. We strategically planed for Thursday night knowing that Olivier would be around to cook. And since he was around, we could be adventurous in our menu. We went for a Mexican theme with burritos, chips, guacamole and salsa.
Olivier was quite the team player, following new recipes and perfecting food he has never tasted. In the course of the preparation, he asked Sheila, “are the people coming Nigerian?” When she responded yes, he said, “are you sure they will eat this type of food?” It may sound like a funny question but I have learned that Nigerians love their pepe (pepper), jollof rice and swallow. While they will eat other things, their menu doesn’t deviate much from those items, much less too far off lands. But the dinner party was quite the success and the guests enjoyed the exotic cuisine.
We have set a goal to do these more often and expose our friends to other cuisines from around the world.