Keeping African culinary traditions alive by celebrating togetherness while offering sustainable and open-minded cross-cultural culinary experiences to raise awareness for change.
Photo: Courtesy of Linda A. Sebisaho
Besides being talented, committed, and passionate, Linda is also a kind of superwoman. She partakes in one of her passions from Monday to Friday by caring for young children in the day care she opened in Harlem, before putting on her kitchen apron on weekends to blossom again in her second passion job: being a Chef. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, she moved to New York in 2008 where she was able to express her passion for cooking while keeping the African culinary traditions alive. Through a series of dining experiences at the chef’s house, catering services, and cooking classes, she shares her knowledge and values around the traditional Congolese inspired flavors. She shows her commitment to a sustainable gastronomy, by not only sourcing locally and sublimating seasonal products, but also by contributing to the evolution of people’s mindsets and preconceived ideas. Education is a very important part of what she does, and every day she attaches great importance to transmitting values to the children she takes care of, as well as to the clients and guests she serves, and finally to the students that she teaches.
Welcome Linda to Chefs for Impact!
By Linda Adria Sebisaho as told to Chefs for Impact
What brought you to be a Chef in New York?
“I was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo. My family moved to Belgium first, then one of my uncles and I moved to the United States when I was fifteen. There is a difference between leaving Congo because of the war and entering a country with a refugee status. We were lucky as we have had the ability to pay our way here.
I didn’t necessarily start off as being interested in food in the way that I am now, because where I’m from food isn’t a career. It’s just something you socialize with and that you share with people, but you don’t necessarily make money from it.
I’ve always loved kids and teaching so I was a middle school teacher for a while. Then, eventually, I opened a daycare in New York. Part of my journey as an immigrant was to start cooking because it felt like a part of home. When I decided to pursue the art of food, it was because I wanted to share that part of who I am with others. Now, I express my creativity through catering, social dining, meal delivery and cooking classes. I’m a childcare worker at my daycare during the week, and I become a Chef on weekends.”
How do you preserve your creativity in these difficult times?
“This virus has killed my creativity. Once we can travel again, I want to go back to Congo to re-immerse myself again into my culinary traditions. My cooking is based on childhood memories and I’m looking forward to going back home and re-energizing myself with the ingredients before sharing these flavors with my clients.”
What is your definition of sustainability?
“Be mindful of what you eat. Asking yourself questions like: where is your food coming from? Who raised it? How far did it travel to get to you? Is the person selling this food to you getting a livable wage? The good thing is, I think, many of us are becoming hyper aware of this now.”
Do you think the crisis will create opportunities?
“I’m not an optimistic person when it comes to society. I think the majority of us tend to forget and go back to what we know. My hope is that people will encourage certain businesses due to their impact on the local community, and the way they treat their farmers and workers. Sometimes, it’s about getting out of your comfort zone. Especially in NYC where everyone is running from point A to point B, always in need of something that is quickly available and a lot of the time, unfortunately, it has nothing to do with sustainability. Most of the time, it is easier to get your coffee from the big coffee chain that is around the corner instead of going to that small local coffee shop. I think that, with the coronavirus and social justice crisis, more people will want to support the local communities rather than big corporations that may have a negative impact on both the people and the environment.”
How can the food industry be more sustainable and responsible?
“Things have to change but the change has to be a long-term vision as opposed to immediate actions. The easiest thing to do is to diversify your image and your understanding of what healthy and good food is. This would be a short-term solution to addressing sustainability and social justice in the food industry. Long term wise, it would have to be about decolonizing the mindsets. The way people think of food sometimes is attached to preconceived ideas that are pre colonial and that are not necessarily the reality of today. Long term work will be welcoming food and ingredients that may or may not have been seen as healthy before based on some preconceived ideas that existed.”
What do you hope is next?
“Hopefully by December I’ll be back in business. My dream is to continue making that local impact. I don’t have the goal to establish a large catering company, I like working solo with one assistant. So, I want to continue this way because I want to be the face of my food. In the next 5 years, I look forward to working with more grass-root organizations especially in the education of social justice and bringing awareness to the history and social, political issues in the Congo. Going forward, I want to meet with younger generations who are looking to learn more and have, in turn, an impact. Education is very important to me, that’s the reason why I also have a daycare. I know one day of these kids will go to college and do amazing things!”
Learn more: https://lindaacooks.com/home