Delivering the keynote address at the recently concluded Hospitality All African Peoples Imbizo (HAAPI) Festival, the Creator of Akwaba Travel Market, Ambassador Ikechi Uko, said that he is overjoyed at what African Chefs are doing on the African continent through the annual HAAPI Festival , bringing back the African food culture and promoting hospitality and tourism through it.
According to Ambassador Uko, tourism today is more about experience and not just about sites. Such experience, he said, can be better if sited around tourist places. “So, what is the best way of giving someone an experience?”, he asked rhetorically. “It is through food, music and drinks, things fully captured in the HAAPI festival ”.
Delivery the keynote, The Role of Chefs in Today’s Tourism, Ambassador Uko said that Chefs are very important to the economy of any country being the ones driving the culinary experience and hence tourism and hospitality which is the biggest industrial sector the world over.
He stated that the biggest spend of tourists is on food. And without good food accommodation will not be attractive, drawing reference to the recent event in a North African country where some tourists died in a hotel due to suspected food poisoning. “Tourism is the largest employer of labor in the world and food is the critical point in the tourism value chain with Chefs being the ones importantly caring for the various food delicacies, cuisine and culinary experience”.
“The Chefs are not ranked important on the value chain because they do not know how to tell stories. Modern tourism is about story telling. Thus the future of Chefs in Africa has to be about story telling. Every food you prepare has to be about a story, a perception, just the same way that musicians sell their music through dancing, put some story behind your cuisines and do not just simply cook”, he advised the Chefs.
As a result of effective storytelling, his organization has popularized the African Joloff rice and is presently organizing a competition in Ghana on cooking the best Tilapia fish. The essence is to tell stories about the tilapia fish in Ghana and through this further promote culinary tourism in Ghana and Africa.
The Chinese, he said, have successfully passed a story about eating their food with chopsticks and this has stuck all over the world. So why do African eat eba and fufu with fork and knife? Same thing the Americans have done with pizza which they eat with their hands and the world accepts it. “It is the story and the ride with which the cuisines and culinary delicacies are presented that gives it such an exalted experience. African Chefs must tell the story behind African cuisines and present them with ride, to give our culinary culture the experience it duly deserves”.
“If you commonize your food, everyone else will commonize it”. He advised the Chefs to have an identity and add African Culture to their Id. “There has to be a story behind every food you serve. You must force the hotel and its management to know that there is a story behind the food. There is a country that promotes tourism selling Dracula ticket yet Dracula never lived there. It is the story”.
Food and music are part of culture. Culture does not have a location but travels at will. Thus, the Chefs can make their food travel by giving identity to the food and teaching others to propagate the food.
He reminded the Chefs that Africa has the richest and most exciting tourist locations in the World. Unfortunately, Africa’s blessings became its nightmare as other countries plundered and made it the Dark Continent. “African food was taken away, rebranded and sold back to Africans. But today, the African Chefs through HAAPI are bring back the African food culture and promoting the African culinary experience which propels African tourism to new and greater heights across the continent”.
Hospitality All African Peoples Imbizo (HAAPI) Festival is an annual event organized and promoted by the African Chefs United, the umbrella body of Chefs in Africa. This year’s event hosted by Nigeria focused on Celebrating Indigenous African Food, Exotic Drinks and Music and was a weeklong event running from August 28 to September 5 in Lagos.