Chef Boulingu runs three restaurants in Gabon. Photo: Boulingui

By Firmaın Eric Mbadinga

Régis Boulingui's story could be summed up as a happy combination of circumstances.

Now at the head of a chain of three restaurants and a catering company, the 40 year-old never imagined he would become a chef and the head of a thriving business after what looked like a difficult start.

"I became a chef rather by accident, I fell into the cooking pot, so to speak", explains Régis Boulingui.

"When I was about 14, I made a mistake that my father found really hard to digest... (laughs) (laughs) so to punish me, he sent me to an oil rig off the coast of Port-Gentil to work in the kitchens as a dishwasher," Boulingui told TRT Afrika.

But what was supposed to be a punishment became the formative years of an apprenticeship in the kitchens of a privately-owned French catering company.

Chef Boulingu started cooking at the age of 14. Photo: Boulingui

A passion

Though his route to the kitchen was by chance, Boulingui believes he inherited his passion for cooking from his parents, particularly his father who he said worked in the restaurant business.

"Ever since I was a child, I must admit, I often admired my father's staff who often came to the house to prepare dishes, even though I had no idea that I would one day be imitating them. I used to see them making cocktails, birthday cakes and wedding cakes. When I found myself in the kitchen, for me it was no longer a punishment, but the perfect opportunity to realise this passion " he said.

Boulingui was the youngest employee at the restaurant in the rig which served hundreds of different nationalities.

"They used to call me the baby. Then I went from being a dishwasher to the cold room and two or three years later I became a cook. I was in charge of preparing African dishes. Two years later, I became a senior chef," he explained.

Chef Boulingui master both African and Western recipes. Photo: Boulingui

Chef Boulingui, as he has come to be known, then progressed to being trained in bakery and pastry-making.

After nearly years in the kitchens of hotels, particularly in Gabon's capital, Libreville, he launched his first restaurant in 2013 using his own savings and the support of friends and family.

This was after further training in restaurant management in Paris.

He is now the head of three outlets specialising in African and Western gastronomy, Viennese pastries, as well as offering catering services at events.

The dishes

Chef Boulingui hopes to train more young people. Photo: Boulingui.

"I'm convinced from the depths of my being that I was born to be a chef. It's a passion that drives me and will drive me for the rest of my life,'' said Boulingui.

Although he has mastered both African and Western recipes, he nonetheless admits to having a favourite dish, the "dish of his heart".

"With experience both in the kitchen and in my travels around the world, I have enriched my cooking,'' Boulingui said.

''Even though I'm still young, I've mastered a bit of everything - African dishes, Gabonese dishes and dishes from the rest of the world,'' he added.

"However, I do have one dish that I love the most. That dish is smoked chicken with niembuet and steamed plantain dituk," he said enthusiastically.

Far from being totally satisfied with the road he has already travelled, Boulingui has set himself the challenge of training young people to give them the chance to fulfil their potential, as he did more than 20 years ago.

TRT Afrika