Victoire Gouloubi- the Congolese chef who has made her way into Italian kitchens

Africa and Italy meet in a mestizo cuisine that brings culture, tradition, and innovation. Victoire is an explosion of energy and temperament: a combative woman who has made her way into the male world of cooking. Hers was not only a gender struggle but also an ethnic one. She has asserted and prevailed her knowledge and knowledge over difficulties, leading her to build her identity in a kitchen aimed at integration.

 

How would you define your kitchen?

My cuisine is like children born from two cultures: it is neither 100% European nor 100% African. Mine is a hybrid kitchen.

 

What is your background?

I was born in Congo, and I arrived in Italy at the age of 21. I was supposed to continue my law studies, but in the end, I realized it wasn’t my way. My dad wanted me to go that way, but I didn’t. When my uncle presented me with a list of professions to choose from, I heard in the voice “cook” my passion. Now the word passion is almost a fashion in the world of gastronomy, passion is never just food at the table. To achieve it many factors must be united, without them, no one can be called a cook.

So, I decided to move to Italy, to Feltre, to do a cooking school. During school, I started to take my first steps as an intern in Cortina, but I was still at the ABC of cooking. I worked in the kitchen with big brigades and I was the youngest. The battle for me was not a single one: there was the social factor, the fact of being a woman, and being a foreigner. I then went to Milan where I met Sadler, who was the first chef to open the doors of the star kitchen to me. He was one of the few human chefs who made no distinction between men and women. He was interested in people who aim to grow so that each one would acquire his signature. I believe that whatever job you undertake, every person has to find his identity, his signature, especially when you aim at a career and want to make a name for yourself. After the internship with him, I left to start my climb.

Has, being a woman and a foreigner in the kitchen, ever created discrimination against you?

I compare cooking to the army. The humiliation you suffer is similar to the military. The chef is the boss who can intervene from time to time to put an order, but unfortunately, there is still discrimination. I had the feeling that anyone who wants to be trained to Italian cuisine is like coming to learn a language that has primacy as if only Italians had learned a culinary language. Especially at the beginning, I did not give much weight to this discrimination, but I suffered from it even if I did not want to show it. I took refuge in that slice of attention that the chef gave me, even if only for a second. I was fresh from a country that had lived through genocides and wars and when you’re dealing with people who humiliate you, you think “if I survived that I can overcome everything”. I lived one humiliation after another, they called me a monkey, they didn’t eat my food: it was a constant battle, a constant humiliation.

 

What do you want to convey to those who eat your food?

Beyond enjoying the dish, what I want to convey is the sensitivity towards different cuisines. I would like to educate adults and young people, transmitting to them that food is a universal language so much so that we are born, and our first food is milk. This food comes from women, no matter the colour or ethnicity. No one can claim to have the primacy or the key to the knowledge of gastronomy. Every ethnic group, of this unique race on earth, has its culinary genetic code. Even if you don’t speak my language, we understand each other at the table, because food unites everyone. Making people travel to unknown places through my kitchen is important to me. You can eat any ingredient from anywhere in the world and still feel at home because you are a citizen of the world.

 

What does it mean to experiment? How do you manage to integrate two different traditions: the native and the acquired Italian ones?

In the first 10 years of training, I applied myself very much. The chefs I worked with immediately moved me up a grade and I was able to climb to the top quite quickly. When I started working as Marc Farinacci’s sous chef, I found in him one of the first to want many women in the kitchen. When I decided to start my own business, he told me “find your own space and interpret in your own way what he learned with us”. Until that moment I hadn’t had the chance to include Africa in my kitchen. Here we know very little about African cuisine and culture. In a country like Italy where Italians believe that their cuisine is the best in the world, I was wondering how I could include it in mine. Then I also met Aimo, who told me: “try to do what is in you, dig in yourself, only there you can find your way”. When I opened my restaurant, I decided to express myself in the intersection of different cultures: I wanted to insert my native land with the one I had acquired. Africa is a very rich country with many varieties of fruit, vegetables, and incredible animals, but there is still no marketing of these products. Sometimes in some dishes, there are more Italian influences and others more African, but the mix is always balanced.

 

Do you consider your cuisine intercultural?

It is natural for me to integrate Italian ingredients with my traditions because first of all, you have to understand the ingredient and seasonality. From there you have to understand how to transform it. I have to be able to tell the Italian culture together with the African one and it’s very easy for me because they are both parts of me.
In Africa, it’s the women who run the kitchens. The kitchen is not becoming women’s now, the kitchen has always been women’s. It’s the men who are lost and if you look closely, men are lost every two by three.

 

Lodovica Bo