Meet Sene­gal’s star food blogger

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste -

AS a girl, Karelle Vignon-Vul­lierme loved eat­ing the Beni­nese dishes from the West African coun­try of Benin that her mother cooked – but never both­ered fol­low­ing her into the kitchen to learn how to make them her­self.

But that has not stopped the Sene­gal­based blogger, now in her 30s, from build­ing up an ador­ing on­line au­di­ence of thou­sands by whip­ping up mouth-wa­ter­ing meals from all cor­ners of the globe.

Hers is a story of love, the In­ter­net and plenty of choco­late cake.

Based in Sene­gal’s cap­i­tal Dakar since 2012, Vignon-Vul­lierme has a strong fol­low­ing in France and fran­co­phone Africa, for her skill in per­fect­ing every­thing from In­dian naan bread to spicy Moroc­can soup, with fre­quent in­dul­gences for her sweet tooth.

“I love to eat,” says the French-Beni­nese for­mer jour­nal­ist at her home in Dakar, prep­ping molten choco­late cakes in her kitchen at the nerve cen­tre of Les Gour­man­dises de Karelle (Karelle’s Treats, at les­gour­man­dis­es­, an ever-ex­pand­ing so­cial me­dia and blog op­er­a­tion that has be­come her full-time job.

Vi­brant close-up pho­tos of her culi­nary cre­ations run­ning the gamut of in­ter­na­tional tastes and oc­ca­sions are ac­com­pa­nied by friendly, chatty com­ments about the recipes.

“I think I've al­ready told you this but it’s only re­cently that I’ve learned to love and to eat cour­gettes,” she writes in a 2015 post for chicken and cour­gette cake on the web­site.

‘How did you do that’

Spon­sor­ships from su­per­mar­ket chains and other re­gional brands also ap­pear on her so­cial me­dia feeds, book­end­ing sped-up videos of her recipes, and such part­ner­ships have proved prof­itable, she says.

Per­haps sur­pris­ingly for a food blogger who has al­most 40,000 Face­book fol­low­ers and 15,000 on In­sta­gram, cook­ing rarely fea­tured in her life un­til she met her fu­ture hus­band while study­ing in Canada.

Her mother “is a great cook”, she says. “When she would tell me, ‘Karelle, come to the kitchen and watch what I'm do­ing here!’, I would just say ‘tell me when it’s ready!’”

But af­ter fall­ing in love with Olivier Vul­lierme, a Franco-Sene­galese en­gi­neer, and fol­low­ing him to Dakar, she be­gan study­ing French-lan­guage cook­ing web­sites such as Mar­mi­, and, hop­ing to im­press.

What started out as a ges­ture of af­fec­tion be­gan to change her life, as she ex­per­i­mented with savoury dishes for him, and plenty of cakes for her­self. “I learnt to cook on­line,” she says, spend­ing time in par­tic­u­lar on the Herve Cui­sine YouTube chan­nel (­cui­sine).

Dishes cooked at home for her hus­band were care­fully pho­tographed and posted on Face­book, lead­ing to en­quir­ing e-mails from friends.

All were quick and sim­ple, but at times of­fered unusual com­bi­na­tions that are some­thing of a trade­mark.

She set up the Gour­man­dises de Karelle blog in late 2013, she says, “firstly so that they would stop send­ing me mes­sages ask­ing ‘how did you do that?’”.

Two plat­forms, two au­di­ences

Her back­ground had al­ready ex­posed her to cui­sine from three con­ti­nents, and she hap­pily pro­duces Asian, African, Euro­pean, and North Amer­i­can dishes for her au­di­ences.

With an av­er­age 120,000 vis­i­tors a month for the blog, she now has her own app so peo­ple can eas­ily browse her cre­ations, rang­ing from choco­late-ba­nana spring rolls to a plan­tain gratin.

Like many so­cial me­dia stars, her per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives have col­lapsed into one, and blog­ging and post­ing is a daily com­mit­ment.

Vignon-Vul­lierme’s au­di­ence falls into two camps “de­pend­ing on the plat­form”, her hus­band says, point­ing to their slightly dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions.

“She has a re­ally in­ter­ac­tive African au­di­ence on so­cial me­dia, and those more cu­ri­ous about cook­ing based in France on the blog,” he adds.

He de­scribes him­self as “very proud” of his wife, but says few re­alise the enor­mous amount of time spent cre­at­ing recipes, tak­ing pho­tos and videos, and re­spond­ing in­di­vid­u­ally to fans – a must in the so­cial me­dia age.

Eat­ing healthily

Vignon-Vul­lierme says her plan was never to “teach peo­ple how to cook”, but sim­ply how to eat prop­erly with in­ex­pen­sive in­gre­di­ents widely avail­able.

She can now make her mother proud by throw­ing to­gether an amiwo, a dish from Benin made with corn­flour and chicken.

But, she says, her tar­gets are young city-dwellers, who “no longer have the time to spend three or four hours in the kitchen”.

And she has ex­panded into restau­rant rec­om­men­da­tions too, which of­fers a chance to hang up her apron and take a rest from the kitchen – but not for too long. – AFP Re­laxnews

In­dus­tri­ally-made en­zymes are of­ten used in com­mer­cial breads, to pro­mote fer­men­ta­tion or ex­tend shelf life, etc. — MCCUN934/ Visu­

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