The African Chef, the Next Big Thing!

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Malcolm Riley and his wife Sophie. They are perhaps the most food passionate people I have ever met. Their motto is ‘Inspired by Africa produced locally’ and Malcolm’s company is The African Chef. I was drawn towards their stand by the unusual sight – in Devon at least of a Baobab fruit and then the product labels caught my eye. BAOBAB JAM, of course I just had to taste the sampler, on cheese, the spicy version had all my taste buds zinging. I loitered, with plans to sample as many as I could get away with, all the same one of course – then I would move on to the next variety! Malcolm and Sophie are very friendly and keen to chat about their food. He is Zambian and grew up with a fusion of food because his mum worked at a Chinese restaurant, then had a catering business and a butchers. Apparently she was the best cook in Lusaka and his biggest influence.

I once spent a day in Zambia but ate in the home of an English woman so I was keen to learn about real Zambian food. They only season with salt, relying on the true flavour of the food rather than spice. We compared the traditional ‘Pap’, a maize meal with the West African Fufu that I’ve tried, a staple carbohydrate used as we use rice, pasta or potatoes.

Once Malcolm moved to London and was exposed to the vast array of food available he knew where his future lay. He spent six years working as a produce manager at Planet Organic. This must have been a huge learning curve, but he was hooked and with Sophie, moved to Devon and worked at Riverfood Farm. Here in Devon we produce some of the finest cheeses, wine and organic vegetables you can buy; Malcolm made some great contacts and moved forward.

I was mesmerised by the flavours to test and he asked if I like pepper flavours. Now, I can do without salt but pepperiness – no way. He showed me a jar of condiment made from Scotch Bonnets and I was tempted, but knowing my limitations, I opted instead for the African Gold, a divine mix of red kidney beans, chillies and garlic. I went in for seconds, just a tiny bit on bread and the flavour hit different parts of my mouth with different effects, zingy, hot and rich, it continued with an internal warmth, but not an over the top heat.

Next I tried the Carrot and Ginger Jam, mild and fruity and delicious on cheese. Malcolm had more delights to offer. A lovely little jar of buttery stuff, which he melted in a fondue to become a garlic dip, I tried it with bread and can imagine lots of ways to use it.

Of course I bought the Spicy African Gold and the hotter Scotch Bonnet for a gift, I sent my friend along and she couldn’t resist either. Malcolm gave me a free recipe card to showing how to use the condiment with steak. I said I wouldn’t be trying that as I don’t eat meat. He said that he had been veggie in the past and there was a recipe for tempura nettles, interesting, and I never say never, but because he added that it was good just stirred into potatoes, I’ve just had it with sweet potato mash – try it Malcolm if you haven’t already – it was wonderful. I look forward to trying it with fish, but perhaps not the cat fish or tilapia we talked about, I’m not sure it’s available here yet.

I wish I had tried more; there is a cordial and Baobab powder, which I didn’t even find out about. I’m certain that I’ll be buying more in the future, Malcolm’s products have already won awards. He grows some of his ingredients right here in Devon on his allotment, and he is dedicated to fair trade. As if this isn’t enough, 20 pence from every jar sold is donated to the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, supporting anti-poaching and conservation projects in Africa.

When you see ‘The African Chef’ for sale – and you will, give it a try, this is really good food, 100% natural and I give it a huge thumbs up!