From a time when culinary arts was not considered a ‘worthy’ career path to now witnessing the prevalence of immensely skilled chefs in the industry, one would hope that local chefs are also emerging to claim their deserving position in the kitchen. ALSO READ: Food is art: Local chef talks culinary skills and why presentation is key Simultaneous with other advancements in the country, the fast-growing restaurant and hotel industry in Rwanda relies mostly on foreign chefs, whose skill sets and proficiency in making exotic dishes caters to the growing appetite and curiosity for international flavours. ALSO READ: VIDEO: Chef Arsène on why Rwandan cuisine stands out One glaring indication is the absence of Rwandan chefs heading any of the top hotels in the country. Instead, those who are employed in such establishments hold assistant positions. Out of the approximately 260 chefs registered within the Rwanda Chefs Alliance, about 15 per cent fall into the senior/top chef category. The majority, 31.9 per cent, are in the middle level, while 20.4 per cent are at the entry-level, and another 15 per cent are still in culinary school. ALSO READ: One chef’s gourmet food choice and why mobile kitchens are the way to go Ramadhan Sindayigaya, popularly known as Chef Rama, believes that this disparity clearly indicates that there is still a journey for Rwandan chefs to be recognised and given top leadership roles in the culinary industry. Chef Rama, who is in charge of membership at the alliance, said there is a need for improved culinary education. He emphasised that better education is the missing piece of the puzzle in achieving the full potential of Rwandan chefs. ALSO READ: Rwandan chef on input in UN Cookbook By enhancing their skills and knowledge through comprehensive training programmes, Rwandan chefs can elevate their expertise and compete at a global level, he noted. Need to revisit curriculum According to Jackline Umuganwa, a lecturer at UTB University, chef, and senior instructor at Vatel Business School - Hotel & Tourism Management, it's past time for Rwandan chefs to expand their horizons while still embracing their Rwandan identity. However, she believes that teaching a curriculum centred on international cuisine poses a challenge for Rwanda's chefs. Umuganwa believes that changing the curriculum to include more traditional Rwandan food preparation would help immensely. Ill dieting leads to ill health. If we could just go back to alleviating and incorporating our traditional ways of cooking, I believe we could find a happy medium between healthy and delicious, she remarked. ALSO READ: From the US to Kigali: Chef Billy brings distinct pizza experience, high-class cuisine Dishes considered as Rwandan traditional food include; umutsima (cassava and corn cake), ibiharage (Rwandan fried beans), Ugali (corn/cassava flour), isombe (cassava leaves with eggplant and spinach), etc. Tradition in the face of global influence Chef Emmanuel Ngayaboshya, a prominent figure in promoting Rwandan dishes through his event ‘Intango Cultural Night’, believes that for Rwandan chefs to finally take centre stage, there’s need for far more innovation. The problem is not a lack of traditional Rwandan dishes or a reluctance on the part of customers to consume them, but rather a refusal on the part of local chefs to change the narrative, he said. The best baker may come from America, and the finest pasta maker from Italy, but who says it's too late to invent our own savoury Rwandan dishes? he said. Besides, having Rwandan chefs at the forefront should stem the outflow of resources and money spent on recruiting foreign talent, among other benefits, he added. ALSO READ: German cook trainer to enrich local recipes Gender stereotypes Another highlighted challenge is observed in the form of persistent stereotypes associated with gender roles. For instance, only 26.9 per cent of the Rwanda Chefs Alliance members are women. This significant gender gap in the culinary sector poses a challenge to achieving true diversity and inclusiveness. Arsene Kwizera, who encountered disdain during his childhood for his passion for cooking, commented that cooking was historically perceived as a feminine domain which led to a skewed perception of talent and capability in the kitchen, undermining both men and women. As a result, absurd arguments emerge; asserting that men possess superior physical strength, making them better chefs capable of handling kitchen equipment effortlessly. Conversely, some claim that women possess an inherent gift for culinary artistry. Arsene finds these debates both amusing and frustrating, as they neglect the fundamental principle of skill acquisition as individuals, irrespective of gender. We need to shift our mind-set, to focus more on individual skills and abilities rather than relying on arbitrary notions tied to gender stereotypes, he said. The true measure of a chef doesn’t lie in their gender but in their passion, creativity, and dedication to their craft. It is time for Rwanda's culinary sector to acknowledge and celebrate the diverse talents that both men and women bring to the kitchen, he added.