Food for thought

Laurier Ngilimana Every Friday evening on El Punt Avui Televisió, Nicole chats with an English-speaking expat. For this month's interview she had a conversation with pastry chef Lairier Ngilimana
You have lived in Catalonia for 16 years but the story of how you came to live here is interesting:
I was born in Cameroon –where my mum was in training for finances. My parents are from Rwanda. When I was 12 years old we had to move due to the area being dangerous, so we moved to Tanzania and then onto Zambia. This is where I learnt my English. From there we wanted to go to South Africa but when we arrived in Mozambique we found there where many more opportunities.
Mozambique has a reputation for being beautiful.
Yes, it is really very beautiful. My sister still lives there. It still feels like my home. Moving around I learnt lots of languages. I love languages.
How many do you speak?
Five: English, Portuguese, French, Spanish and Catalan. I wish I could learn more! Although I have forgotten my mother tongue; I don't really speak it anymore
Which language do you use to speak to your family?
My mum changes her language with her mood. So if she starts in Portuguese you know it will be a normal conversation. If it is English, it will be more profound and deep. And in our mother tongue, then I need to pay attention, it means it is a serious conversation!
How did the move to Barcelona come about?
My father decided. I wanted to be a doctor and he found that I could study and stay here but it wasn't guaranteed that I would get a job straight after. There are many of us: eight brothers and sisters. He said I could go and if I didn't like it I could come back.
But in the end you came here to become a chef!
Yes, and I am still a chef!
Where did this love of food come from?
I remember when I was 10, my mama said: “Right, you cannot just sit on the couch!” She said I needed to help her in the kitchen. The first time I tried to cook something it came out good. And my mum said: “You are the eldest, so you can feed your brothers and sisters!” After a while my dad said that if I liked it then I could try to make something of it.
Do you remember the first thing you cooked?
It was a rice cake! Boiled rice, milk, eggs and little sugar. Not how you would imagine a rice cake to be, more like a rice pudding, perhaps?
When you came to Barcelona you studied at the CETT, Barcelona's hotel management school. I presume that was just the culinary side?
At that time it was training in cookery and service. I liked the service side of things and became quite good at it. I had a teacher who I loved so much. I would work for him at the weekends at hotels and I loved it. You learn so fast like that. The first two years are cooking and service, and then you have to choose to study just cooking, just service, or you can carry on with both. I chose both as I loved them both and couldn't decide. After a while I decided to just concentrate on the cooking. I got fed up with appearing as someone I wasn't; you always have to smile, whatever the customer is like. At least in the kitchen you can shout and get angry! It is a tough job though; you have to really love what you do. The hours are long and late and you spend many hours on your feet. In the beginning, you don't care about the hours; you are learning and loving it.
You trained at Hotel Omm and the Sauc Restaurant, which are Michelin level.
Michelin stars are a whole different level. It is how you picture cooking. Some places you can cook fast and dirty and in others clean. A Michelin star means it is super clean, organised and fast, really fast.
I thought things at that level took a long time?
They do take a long time but you have to be fast and each one is an exact copy. You cant miss an ingredient. In a normal kitchen, for example, I could miss out a tomato, if the tomatoes aren't good enough. That can't happen if there's a Michelin star.
You currently work as a pastry chef at La Carmarga.
Yes I am back to my thing now!
How would you describe the food here in Catalonia?
Simple. Good but simple.
From which country do you prefer the food?
Here is good, French is good. Ours is so different. In pastry I choose French. But for meat I chose here, Catalonia. Fish, I chose French again. Stews I would go back home!
Can you recommend three restaurants in Barcelona?
La Barbacoa, I love burgers! To eat slowly, La Carmarga, where I work. For desserts, La Patisseria.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to go into the culinary business?
Patience. And know what you want. If you want to cook, just cook. Enjoy the experience and move. Don't stay in the same place all the time.
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