This Black Future Season, Footpatrol, Air Jordan and Gauchoworld have teamed up to tell the stories of four Black individuals from the world of music, fashion, art and food. Up next is Diadié Diombana, whose unwavering desire to create unique dining experiences saw him become Madonna’s live-in chef for a six month period.
Landing in the centre of Paris via Eurostar, we visited the Freddy’s Kitchen pop-up takeover of restaurant Sélune, and watched as head chef Diadié Dombana kindly interacted with passersby as they stared at his menus with intrigue. After seeing okra featured as a starter, I knew for many reasons that this visit was not one that’d leave my memory in a hurry.
We were lucky enough to get a proper taste of the Freddy’s Kitchen menu, of which I tried the okra starter, then sea bass, the most flavoursome mushroom I’ve ever tasted and a dessert that combined sweetness and saltiness to absolute perfection — if I do say so myself. It’s hard to describe flavours that completely take your taste palette to new places, finding the words to describe what I ate would do it a disservice. My advice would simply be, if Freddy’s Kitchen is ever in town, make sure you give his food a try.
Showcased for only a week in a restaurant in Châtelet, it was so successful that Diadié decided to continue it at another location to match a fraction of the demand that came his way. “It was really enjoyable and motivating to do the [first] pop up,” says Diadié. “It sold out in 24 hours. A French chef owns this restaurant [Sélune, the location of his second pop-up] and he gave it to me for two weeks, and so far it’s been amazing.”
It’s been a long road to Sélune for Diadié, and it’s by no means been easy, but cooking has been a calling he’s been answering all his life. “My mum and my grandma are really great cooks, and since I was young, I was cooking for my four younger sisters,” says Diadié, speaking on how his taste palette was constantly improving, as a result of being surrounded by a perfect blend of inspirations (and critics).
Whilst much of Diadié’s originality does come from home, he aims to constantly put a modern twist on the food he grew up eating as a child of Malian descent, in addition to borrowing techniques and flavours from Southeast Asia to create a culture clash on a plate that satisfies souls as well as stomachs. “I need to write my background into my plate,” says Diadié on his approach to his cuisines, his dishes simply being a multi-sensory story.
Continuing to showcase his alternative style, his flavour choices blend his Parisian upbringing with his Malian heritage, whilst being inspired by Southeast Asian dishes. But as a black man in Paris, he faced doubt and disrespect from senior chefs whilst working as an apprentice, never allowing it to shape his self-identity. “I was around some chefs who wouldn’t give me opportunities, they’d just be rude to me. They were scared of people being better than them. But I’ve always said that’s not good. Respect is for everyone. This job is complicated but we have to show respect because it’s love, you know?” says Diadié.
Instead of being spiteful about it all after working in over 30 restaurants, Diadié has used the experience to fuel the warmth that fills kitchens he’s in charge of (alongside the heat of the ovens, of course).
Once he was shown faith by his bosses, and became head chef at multiple restaurants, he began to explore his own ideas, and the mediums he’d use to share his foods — events, festivals, private dinners — building the brand of Freddy’s Kitchen, something larger than Diadié himself as a chef. Whilst working on his brand externally, he was continually pushing himself in the kitchen, as head chef of two restaurants, Chope Des Artistes and Chéri Coco. “I hadn’t made vegan cuisines before, but when they [Chéri Coco] asked me to join, I tried it and it was a challenge, but everybody was happy, saying I’m capable of doing whatever I want in the kitchen,” says Diadié.
As the challenges came, so did the opportunities. Speaking on one particular opportunity that came onto his plate quite unexpectedly, Diadié reflected on his six month stint as Madonna’s live-in chef — a gig which came after somebody he exchanged Instagrams with on a night out was asked by one of Madonna’s team for the best chef they knew. “It went from one normal day, to another, where I was now living with and cooking for Madonna,” says Diadié. The experience helped him understand the importance of being a brand, even as an individual, allowing him to connect between people with “food as the base” that has birthed many a relationship.
After being back in Paris for a while since work took him beyond the shores of France, Diadié looks to get back on a plane, to immerse himself into various cultures that’ll inform the flavours of his dishes. “I was inspired when I came from the US. I felt like I needed to have this moment where I could express myself without any limits.” Where will he go? Diadié parts with an ambiguous answer, simply responding: “We’ll see, we will see.”
Photography – @armand.dasilva
Photography Assistant – @rhysbawilliams
Words – @igweldn
Editor – @elliefmuir
Design – @andycarnegiebrown
Production – @pifivy