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Have you ever wondered where the produce in your refrigerator comes from? Not the grocery store where you bought it or the company on the label, but the soil it sprouted from and the hands it was harvested by?
Becoming more curious and conscious about the food you eat can shift your perspective, changing how you view what is on your plate for the better.
For chef Mick Élysée, the global restauranteur and environmental activist, his food-conscious mindset changed everything—from how he runs his restaurants to how he sees the world. Understanding where the ingredients he used came from and how they made their way to him helped him recognize our food systems’ power to affect change on a global scale.
“The food chain has the big responsibility of saving the world,” he explains passionately. “It starts with the farmer and finishes on the plate.” As the executive chef of NsuomNam, an innovative, upscale Pan-African restaurant in Accra, Ghana, the Franco-Congolese chef is spotlighting the importance of conscious eating, sustainability and farm-to-table dining.
The French Connection
Growing up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Élysée discovered his passion for food early on. “It starts from my childhood. I got the love of cooking from my grandma and my mom,” he reflects.
From a young age, he was always drawn to the kitchen when they were cooking. “It’s not because I liked to cook,” he admits jokingly, “But I liked to eat.”
Although starting as a reason to be closer to where the food was and sneaking a bite when he could, his relationship with cooking would grow into an opportunity to learn about his heritage through stories and connect with his culture through food. “That was, for me, a way to learn about our family history,” says Élysée. This strong connection to his roots would give him something to hold on to when he was transplanted to France at 14 years old to escape the civil war in his country.
Adapting to life in France would prove to be challenging; having to adjust to a new culture, education system and way of life was difficult for him. He also struggled with being away from the country he grew up in and missing the people he left behind. Amid this turbulent time, however, Élysée grounded himself with the one thing that made sense to him in his new world — finding solace in the kitchen.
Living in one of the world’s culinary capitals, he made the best out of his circumstances by taking a chance to explore his passion for cooking further. Enrolling in one of the most prestigious culinary schools in Toulouse, he set out to be classically trained in the culinary arts and become a chef.
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Chef Mick Élysée’s Sustainability Agenda
His culinary education in school and the food culture he experienced in France changed his philosophy around eating, contributing to his food-conscious approach. “The way they train us, every food you eat, you have to know where it comes from,” he explains.
This emphasis on conscious eating and local seasonal ingredients combined with his Congolese roots would lead him down a path to honor both.
After graduating, Élysée hit the ground running, opening his first restaurant at 22. “It was a small restaurant. We only owned it for two or three years roughly, and we made it one of the best places in Toulouse,” he shares proudly.
It was here that he was free to push the boundaries of French and Congolese cuisine for the first time, merging the flavors of his new home with the ones he grew up with.
Inspired by the possibilities and ready for a fresh start, he left France to travel the world, excited to expand his palette and discover new opportunities. Spending the next ten years honing his craft in Michelin-starred restaurants and hotels around the world, in 2015, he established his own private chef and restaurant consulting company in London.
His incredible culinary journey eventually saw his return to Africa in 2022, where he opened his restaurant NsuomNam in southern Ghana. The restaurant offers a seafood-focused menu sourced from local fishermen and farmers, driven by Chef Élysée’s commitment to using local ingredients and eliminating waste in his kitchen.
Looking to the Future
Élysée explains the role chefs play in maintaining balance in our food systems, saying, “Now where the world is going, as a chef, you are responsible for the economy and for the health of people.”
With the power to directly affect change through his restaurant, he has made it his mission to run a green operation and serve fresh local ingredients. “Good food comes from the ground, not from the freezer,” he jests.
Dedicated to his sustainable mentality, he shares the impact of supporting local producers. “It’s good for the economy because I’m giving back to the community. It’s good for the earth because it reduces our carbon footprint. And it’s good even for my customers because the foods are fresher and have more nutrients.”
Sharing what is next in his journey, he says. “I think I’m going to become a farmer,” he states positively. “The farm is not going to be for business, it is going to be for education.”
The green chef aims to encourage and educate everyone, starting with his community, on becoming more food-conscious and living sustainably.
On ways to start he offers, “have a little garden,” assuring that even growing a few herbs or some vegetables can make a difference. “You can plant just spinach, that’s it. So that maybe for one week you don’t have to buy your spinach.”
He also suggests supporting local farms and, if you have children, educating them on where food comes from. “Some kids don’t even know how a tomato grows; they never see tomato.”
Élysée wants people to know that chefs and farmers are not the only ones with the power to impact our food systems. Everyone individually has the power to make a change, and it starts by choosing to believe that what you do matters, even the food you eat. “If I can pass my message to two people or three people, that’s enough of a difference,” he declares.