“I wanted to come back to Ethiopia. I knew it would be a challenge to come from the diaspora and be seen as an Ethiopian chef. So I traveled all over the country looking to use knowledge that has a global appeal…” Chef Yohanis Gebreyesus Hailemariam

By Jason Burke (The Guardian) |

His dream is to show the world the glories of Ethiopian cuisine, to preserve its rich traditions and to make even his poorest fellow citizens eat better. That Yohanis Gebreyesus Hailemariam’s (‘Chef Yohanis’) ambition recalls the aims of a slightly better known chef is no coincidence.

“I’m a big fan of Jamie Oliver. Many years back, my mum and I used to watch his shows,” he says. The 30-year-old is one of thousands of talented young Ethiopians who have chosen to return to their homeland after being educated or growing up overseas.

One of the longest economic booms anywhere in the world in recent years has transformed the lives of tens of millions, and opened commercial opportunities unimaginable a generation ago. Growth rates have averaged about 10% for a decade, and most agree poverty has declined steeply.

A vast dam – one of several enormous hydroelectric power projects guaranteeing cheap electricity – and a new railway from the capital Addis Ababa to Djibouti, the Red Sea port 750km away, opened in December. The national airline – once shunned – now flies new aircraft daily to destinations across south and east Asia, turning Ethiopia into an intercontinental hub. In the new commodities exchange in Addis Ababa, prices for coffee flash across an electronic display on one wall. On a sofa in reception, Haile Tiruneh, a 19-year-old from Washington, sits waiting for a 9am meeting with a CEO. “I don’t want to stay [in the US]. I see all my relatives struggling with loans. I want to be back here … there are so many opportunities,” Tiruneh, who is currently studying finance at Seoul University, says. Other “re-patriates” as they are known here include designers, restaurateurs, musicians and property developers.

ALSO READ: They Fled Ethiopia amid War and Privation. An Economic Boom Is Bringing Them Home.

Chef Yohanis grew up in Addis Ababa but spent years training with Paul Bocuse, an internationally renowned French chef, in Lyon before working at top restaurants in California. One of the highest profile Ethiopian re-pats, he has successfully tapped into a growing interest in cooking and gastronomy among an emerging urban middle class. His primetime TV show has an audience of millions, producers say. A key feature of every episode is a recipe specific to each region of the nation of 94 million.

Continue reading this story on The Guardian
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