While most children aspire to become doctors, pilots, lawyers, and other white-collar jobs, Emma Ngayaboshya had what some may call an ‘unconventional’ dream— to become a driver. He was inspired by an uncle who served as his role model and had been in the same profession for four years. However, he almost didn’t live to see that dream, or what he eventually grew up to be—because disaster struck. Surviving the Genocide Born in 1982 and raised in Rukara in Kayonza District in Eastern Province, Ngayaboshya survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi when he was only 11 years old. When the killings started, Ngayaboshya and his family sought refuge inside a church called Karubamba. He said: “Killers set fire to the nearby village of Kawangire, burning down homes and people’s possessions. “Fearing for our lives, my father forced us to seek refuge in the church, hopelessly running for life and leaving everything we owned. However, Karubamba was too small to accommodate us all, as a big number of people were there seeking refuge from the killers too.” Given his young age at the time, Ngayaboshya’s recollection of the events that transpired is somewhat unclear. However, he remembers, “The situation was dire and chaotic. Despite this, my father and other elders valiantly defended against each attack from the assailants. In the midst of the chaos, my father sustained cuts on his shoulders while protecting my pregnant mother, who was also injured on her neck. Fortunately, they managed to endure the ordeal and eventually recovered.” As time passed, the situation worsened; they struggled with hunger, thirst, and relentless assaults from assailants. “Throughout this harrowing ordeal, hope persisted as we heard the words “Inkotanyi ziraje” (Inkotanyi soldiers are coming). The people shouted with anticipation, believing they would be rescued. And they did. “Inkotanyi arrived at the church after the killers had fled, leaving behind numerous casualties - dead, wounded, and starving individuals. Some of us were fighting for our lives. They instructed the weak ones to stay behind for help, while the strong ones were directed to go to Gahini Camp, where we resided for over a year.” Life went back to normal. He survived with his parents and four siblings but sadly lost his mother to cancer later on. The start of a new dream Ngayaboshya’s dream to be a driver was still intact, however, after he enrolled in a vocational school in 1998 when his family moved to Rukara, things changed. Upon moving to Rukara, he discovered that the school did not provide driving courses, but instead focused solely on catering and hospitality. Ngayaboshya had to take what was on offer, and he adjusted well. “Cooking was my favourite subject and the first dish I learnt to make was pancakes. It seemed like magic.” After the vocational school, he got an internship at the Faucon Hotel located in Huye. That was in 1999. “Cooking quickly became a passion. As soon as my internship was over, I decided to look for a job as a cook. I have been a chef since 2000,” he said. The learning journey With more than two decades of experience, the 41-year-old pursued studies in hospitality and culinary arts in Rwanda, Kenya, and Switzerland. Throughout his educational journey, he achieved numerous awards and qualifications. Following the completion of a food production diploma in Kenya, he furthered his education at Kenya Utalii College between 2006 and 2008. As a student at the college, Ngayaboshya was awarded the Best Chef in Africa. He earned this recognition by winning the trophy at the Association of Hospitality Schools in Africa (AHSA) competition. This prestigious event saw the participation of 48 hospitality schools from 22 countries across Africa, and Ngayaboshya emerged as the winner, securing the first position. In 2010, he completed a short course in food production management and food safety at Singapore Oriton School. He then pursued a postgraduate diploma (PDG) in hospitality administration and food production management at Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Switzerland from 2011 to 2012. In addition, Ngayaboshya has held multiple positions, such as a fine dining chef at Kigali Serena Hotel. Ngayaboshya has also served as the Head of the Culinary Art Department at Rwanda Workforce Development Authority (WDA) and as a part-time lecturer at Rwanda Tourism University College, where he provided modern cookery skills to management students. Being a chef in Rwanda People worldwide take pride in their traditional dishes. While they may appreciate other cuisines, their own culinary heritage is always a top priority. Rwanda, however, is not quite there, according to Ngayaboshya, also known as ‘Chef Emma’. Ngayaboshya firmly believes that 'culture' and 'cuisine' are intricately linked across the globe. “It is embarrassing when foreigners visit the country and expect to try local dishes, but few restaurants and hotels are able to prepare such food. This diminishes Rwanda's uniqueness,” he said. ALSO READ: Shema on introducing a new food tradition in Rwanda Ngayaboshya’s goal to prioritise Rwandan cuisine started in 2015, which eventually became his passion project. Throughout the years, he dedicated himself to developing and refining this concept until August of this year when he finally brought it to life. This monthly event, known as the ‘Intango Cultural Night’, is the latest happening in town. It aims to highlight the delectable cuisine and dishes of Rwanda, which hold a significant historical background in the country. His self-motivation led him to wonder who else would take up such a responsibility if not him! Ngayaboshya firmly believes that by cultivating, promoting, and sharing these culinary treasures, the heritage and authenticity of the food will continue to flourish. Some of the dishes at Intango Cultural Night include a blend of isombe (cassava leaves pounded with meat), cassava boiled with beans, roasted sweet potatoes, unpeeled potatoes and cooked sorghum commonly known as ‘impengeri’, banana mixed with pumpkin leaves, maize mixed with beans, and more. Dishes also include roasted meat (cow, goat, and fish), and desserts include cakes made from sorghum flour. The meals are made using locally crafted tools like ‘imbehe’ clay pots, baskets, and clay cooking pans. To satisfy thirst, drinks such as ‘urwagwa’ made from sorghum flour and ‘umutobe’ made from banana juice mixed with other local ingredients are served.This traditional drinkUrwagwa is a fermented banana juice flavored with roasted sorghum. All of these dishes are prepared using natural methods and require minimal or no oil, ensuring that the food is both safe and healthy. Ngayaboshya believes that this situation is a win-win. “Hotels can provide a variety of options to guests, while local farmers can find dependable markets.” “Tourists often seek to sample local flavours, which can enhance their overall experience and contribute significantly to the growth of tourism in Rwanda.” ALSO READ: Umuganura a good moment to reflect on Rwandan food systems Where are the women? Ngayaboshya recognises the limited presence of women in hotel and restaurant kitchens. He points out that many employers believe women are only suited for salad sections or dessert preparation, like cakes, but in reality, women can excel in all areas of the kitchen, and he emphasises the need for a shift in this mind-set. Regarding the notion that cooking professionally is not a lucrative career, he countered by stating that the job is more fulfilling than commonly believed. He went on to explain that some chefs are earning upwards of Rwf3 million, which is a positive development brought about by employers in the industry. With his extensive experience, he currently owns two businesses: Professional Chef's Network Limited and Afrizen Group Limited.