In the last few years, I visited Zanzibar three times and I’d go back anytime if I could. The second time was for New Year’s Eve 2016, about one year ago. I was staying with friends in the capital city, Stone Town. One day, as I was wandering around the narrow streets and admiring some beautiful wooden doors typical in Zanzibar, I thought of researching a way to cook while in the city. Asking Google about cooking in Stone Town, I obtained the contact details of a cooking tour company, whom I emailed for information.
The day after, I met Shara at my hostel and we went directly to the market to buy all the ingredients for the recipes we were going to cook together (it was only the two of us): chicken, spices (grown on the Island), vegetables, sweet potatoes, coconut… The market tour itself was amazing, with all those delicate and exotic flavours in the air (except in the butcher’s area).
Zanzibar Cooking – Photo by Laurie Vaquer
Stone Town has a small city centre, so we walked to a friend of Shara’s and we sat down on a mat on the floor of her patio. The patio was really a traditional open air kitchen, which is quite normal in some places in Africa – charcoal cooking being still widely used.
Then she explained what we were going to cook: chicken pilau, spinach in coconut milk, and a sweet potato dessert. We made everything from scratch, even the coconut milk, using a traditional grater. While we were cooking, children from the neighbourhood were observing us from the surrounding windows and eventually came closer to see what was going on.
This experience was truly astounding and unique. I felt lucky to have such an incredible time, one to one, with a woman from Zanzibar. Once the cooking was complete, we sat down in the living room and shared the food with the children and of course, it was delicious!
This experience in Zanzibar marked the beginning of a complete change for me, but I only realized it one year later, in December 2016. I realized that maybe I could build a platform to help local cooks promote their cooking and for travellers to find them.
Untitled – Photo by Laurie Vaquer
After spending such a pleasant time with Shara, I always looked for such authentic experiences every time I’d travel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as I’d had hoped. For instance, in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), I only managed to attend a food tour. It was a very nice tour, but I would have loved to cook and taste instead of only tasting different dishes.
This experience in Zanzibar marked the beginning of a complete change for me, but I only realized it one year later, in December 2016. It had been 4 years that I had been living in Africa. I was there for work, in West Africa (Ivory Coast) for 2 years, and in Central Africa (RDC) for the 2 following years. I am a civil engineer and I was working in Real Estate, quite a normal corporate job, except that I was an expat in Africa, which gave me the opportunity to get to know this continent better and to make friends from all over the World. So, in December 2016, I was beginning to feel that I needed to live a different life, that I didn’t belong where I was anymore.
In January 2017, I went to Ethiopia for a long weekend – since I knew I was going to leave soon, I wanted to make the most of being in Africa – to visit a country that I knew already through its delicious cuisine. The first thing I did was research cooking opportunities and, to my surprise, it was impossible. I managed to find a food tour, but there were no actual cooking opportunities at all during the tour.
That was such a disappointment. I realized that maybe I could do something about it and build a platform to help local cooks promote their cooking and for travellers to find them. The idea for Take Me Cooking was born.
Untitled – Photo by Laurie Vaquer
A few months later, after I quit my job and went back to Europe. I decided to join a Startup Weekend in the UK and this is where I met Matt, my co-founder and CTO who helped me get my idea from dream to reality. Today, I am based in South America (Argentina most of the time) and we are growing the platform one host at a time. Every time I travel, I try to meet potential hosts and I participate in as many cooking experiences as I can!
Working on a passion project is amazing and I really enjoy the freedom and the fact that travelling is part of my life, full time.
Feature image: Laurie – Photo by Laurie Vaquer