For 13 years, Patrice Shema lived in London, England where he acquired his culinary skills, working with celebrity chefs. Last year he decided to return to Rwanda to exploit the country’s wealthy ingredients and create something new by making unique and authentic homemade gourmet sausages, and other dishes through his PatsBangers culinary business.
The 44-year-old spoke to Sunday Magazine’s Sharon Kantengwa about the need to embrace diversity in the Rwandan food culture.
As a seasoned chef, who has since ditched your marketing and advertising career, where did your love for cooking stem from?
I just found myself cooking because I had no choice. We didn’t have maids in London and being a father, I had to figure out how I was going to feed my kids. I went to charity bought a cookbook and I started, it was easy. The aesthetic of cooking began from there and I began buying my own equipment. I applied for a job in cooking because I wanted to discover and excel. I challenged myself and went from pasta to pizza, to Sunday rolls. Tourists are very many in Rwanda which is one of the things that attracted me to come back home to show the world that we have got a lot to offer and not just stay limited.
How was it like for you starting out?
When I started last year in October, at the Golf Club, I was given an opportunity to exhibit what I have for a couple of months then I had to rethink to create my own brand in a different way. I turned my house into a production place and I market the products by inviting people who want to taste them before they hire me to cook for them because I want to channel this business into outdoor catering.
How has the experience been like so far?
It’s a big challenge because it’s not easy to break rules or be introduced to a different kind of meal because we are used to our local dishes but we don’t have the vegetable burgers yet beans make the best vegetable burgers, while cassava and pumpkin can also be presented in many ways.
There is a lot to offer as experienced chef because I have had the privilege of working for celebrity chefs in London, and I have worked on different dishes like game foods, and Italian foods, British and German cuisines. They are almost similar but the presentation is different. In Rwanda, for instance, we have the fried pork, beef, and chicken but there are so many different ways of preparing pork and I have not seen that style in Rwanda.
What is your idea of breaking traditional cuisine rules in Rwanda?
There are different kinds of meals that you can make from the ingredients that we find in the market, it’s just that there is a lack of creativity that people are missing out. The dishes that we can make in Rwanda, you don’t have to go to a five star hotel to find them, we need to exploit them and have these dishes out there and not just the normal buffet that we are used to. We need to break the traditional rules and its best if we think outside the box.
How have you used your marketing background to suit your cooking passion?
I have a degree in advertising and graphics which I married together with cooking whereby I brand and advertise my products through different mediums. Culinary is art and part of creativity which involves taste, presentation and hygiene, so that sort of uniqueness is needed here. I’m part of the forum of Rwandan chefs, we share ideas but one thing I discovered when I moved around in the public library, there aren’t any cookbooks which I found quite a shame, maybe we should donate some to inspire young ones and learn more recipes. The youth, especially the boys need to start killing their phobia and get in the kitchen and enjoy cooking.
What would you say is your food philosophy?
Keep it basic, don’t be limited by creating exciting dishes. I would like, once the success comes in, the young farmers and youth be introduced to farming, appreciate food and actually get into business in farming and agriculture because that is where the global focus is.
Why was it important that your bring your skills back home?
The world we are heading to, is a fast moving world and street food is the thing now as long as you go by the law, in terms of food and hygiene. We need to break the confinement that we are used to of sticking to one place. Growing up we used to eat roasted maize, where did all that stop. Let’s face it, it’s part of the development and people will start walking around eating. I’m not encouraging it but there are many ways of supporting street food, they can buy the food as takeaway and eat at their offices.
Would you say returning home was worth it, after 13 years of living in Europe?
I have been a leader of a community for the past seven years and last year I went back and resigned. People admired my challenge of coming back home. One thing I noticed about them is the fear of starting afresh and they need to be encouraged that they are capable. Europeans start business here and export back, why can’t Rwandans do the same? The leadership has a role to play in this and they need be available when they need them.