European-trained Chef Elsa Viana, born in Angola, shares how her passion for gastronomy propelled her to switch careers and venture to Paris, where she pursued a High Gastronomy training in the world-renowned culinary institute, “Lenôtre”. Soon thereafter, she returned to her motherland of Angola, where she spent several years as Executive Chef. Currently, she is working and residing in Cascais, Portugal, where she runs her catering company as a private chef.
Why did you choose the path of high gastronomy and how did you begin your career in this field?
I was born in Benguela, in the Southern province of Angola. After 20 years in the role of an executive secretary and translator, I decided to switch career paths and pursue my passion of the culinary arts. I departed for Paris, where I pursued an education in High Gastronomy at Lenôtre Culinary Institute.
I then traveled extensively throughout Europe, having the opportunity to work in many different kitchens before returning home to the capital of Angola, Luanda. Where I worked for five years as the Executive Chef of a fine-dining restaurant, Cajueiro.
During the Expo Milan 2015, I was appointed as Angolan Gastronomic Ambassador. A title which allowed me the privilege of representing Angola, in the World Couscous Competition, which takes place annually in Sicily.
Angola has had many changes in recent years, politically and otherwise, how have these events influenced the gastronomy industry?
The conclusion of the war has allowed Angola’s gastronomy industry to evolve and flourish in its newfound freedom. As Angolans begin this new chapter, food is always at the forefront of the celebrations. Financial freedom has permitted opportunities for travelling, shopping and for the refinement of the gourmet palate.
In addition, this transformation has attracted many foreigner restaurateurs, who believe in Angola’s potential and are investing in its gastronomical industries.
Also, this new era has encouraged many Angolan chefs, to reunite with their homeland, and with this return they bring with them a wealth of knowledge, and an eagerness to demonstrate the culinary skills acquired abroad.
What do you find to be the most interesting and diverse characteristics of Angolan gastronomy?
Angola consists of 18 provinces, it’s the 7th largest country in Africa and is an immense territory. The country is comprised of many sorts of terrain, with particularly extraordinary coastlines and rivers. These natural resources provide a remarkable supply of fish and other seafood. In addition, Angola is very well known for its unique dried and smoked meats, and of course its wild mushrooms are incomparable! The Angolan gastronomy is truly as diverse and culturally rich as its people, and I'm so proud of being a part of its growth and implementing these traditions into my culinary creations.
Cold Soup of Sape-Sape (Angolan fruit)
How does the food from the capital vary from the rest of the country?
The war forced relocation of more than half of the population to the capital Luanda, which lies at the Northwest coast and its residents have access to the rest of the territory by car, railway and plane. Consequently, in Luanda you can find a variety of products from the southern to northern provinces, Cabinda enclave included, which has a very particular way of preparing exotic variety of meats and leaves.
In three words, what are the most fascinating characteristics of Angolan culture?
Beauty, climate and charisma!
Filet with Tamarind Sauce over Sweet Potato Mash