Lately, I’ve found myself craving for some good hearty Mauritian food. I guess that it is what your body needs after all the end of year parties – some simple, yet tasty, homemade food.
Every time I think of Mauritian food, I also tend to think of one of my friends: Ayushi Gooroochurn, aka Chef Yu.
Last November, I had the chance to travel to Johannesburg with Chef Yu for a regional event called Women in Culinary. The timing of this event was quite significant as it was held during the 16 of Activism against Gender-based Violence. Its main aim was to bring together female chefs of the African region to encourage women, especially those stuck in abusive relationships, to acquire culinary skills to gain financial independence. The organisers equally wanted to show that choosing to be a female chef is a solid career choice, in spite of the fact that professional kitchens still appear to be male-dominated realms.
But watching Chef Yu lead the kitchen staff, mostly composed of guys, definitely kicks such patriarchal clichés straight in the shin. The woman just owns the kitchen with relative calm and composure without being scared of getting her hands dirty.
If you don’t know Chef Yu yet, I’d highly recommend that you follow her on social media, for one, and that you try imagining this woman of only 28 years old in a professional kitchen. She proudly wears her black chef’s coat which bears the colours of the Mauritian flag – a privilege only few have.
In spite of her five-foot-tall stature, Chef Yu commands authority as she scans every corner of the kitchen to make sure everything is up to scratch, meticulously checking out ingredients, and watching that everyone handles their part of the mise-en-place correctly.
During this 5-day event in South Africa, she was asked to put forward a three-course Mauritian menu in the context of a Gala dinner showcasing different African cuisines. So, amongst the appetising gato pima, the cari poul – made with her own curry powder mix – and fried gato banane.
She also spontaneously made the most gorgeous satini brinzel (eggplant caviar), having found some eggplant in the pantry.
The way Chef Yu made her eggplant caviar was just perfect to me for 2 reasons.
First, it tasted amazing. Its rich and hearty grilled eggplant flavour, perfectly mixed with lemon juice and green chillies, just enough to wake up one’s taste buds. And secondly, I witnessed how Chef Yu, transformed what we often consider a humble Mauritian dish into a delicious show-stopper, while demolishing patriarchal ideas that only men can succeed in professional kitchens.
Talking to Ayushi and listening to her tell the story of how she became a chef – and currently the Head Chef in the Mauritian restaurant Ti Moris Bali – it is clear that evolving in a male-dominated world was not easy. Yet not impossible.
Today, it can be said that Chef Yu actively challenges old-fashioned patriarchal ideas that only men can lead professional kitchens one Mauritian dish at a time. I reckon that it’s the most delicious form of rebellion.
As I am thinking of ways to curb my craving for Mauritian food, it seems only fitting that I make a satini brinzel.
Thank Yu for having me on this trip and allowing me to witness you in your world. You own it girl!