How an African pastry chef brought Chadian chic to Paris

© Hissein Mahamoud Barkai personal archives

Hissein Mahamoud Barkai won France’s Lebey Prize for best artisan in 2022. A member of the Toques françaises association of chefs, he's become an ambassador for Chadian gastronomy around the world, with hallmark creations like the "Paris-N'Djamena".

Barkai was born in Chad and after training in France as a pastry chef now spends his time between Paris and N’Djamena.

His cuisine is a delicate fusion of locally sourced ingredients such as dates, almonds and sorghum flour married with French savoir faire.

In October this year he was awarded the 2022 Lebey Prize for best artisan, but earning recognition in his native Chad, where cooking is reserved to women, was a slog.

“Being a Chadian man and cooking is near impossible, even Utopian,” he told RFI’s Nathalie Amar. “I was lucky to live in France and be able to do what I wanted to do, but it’s not easy to be able to cook here in Chad.”

Barkai hails from the north of Chad, where he was born into the Gorane ethnic group.

“In my village of birth only women can cook, so I was touching on a sensitive issue. They’re very welcoming people but they are proud of their traditions and dignity.”

So while Barkai, like many chefs, enjoyed showing off photos of his creations on social media, he used a pseudonym in the early days.

“I was in Montpellier and rather than calling myself Mahamoud, I used Al Hussein. It was close to my real name, but meant that people wouldn’t know straightaway that it was me,” he explains.

After a while he understood he couldn’t spend his life hiding. He made a short video, “a sort of culinary coming out” and posted it on YouTube.

It allowed Barkai to publicly embrace his passion.

Read more on RFI English

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