“My trip to Ethiopia was an unexpected blessing that has changed my life, as all of my travels do,” Chef Ilona Daniel of Prince Edward Island, Canada.
It has been about a month and half since I’ve returned from Africa, and I’m still finding new lessons and perspectives from my brief, yet transformative trip.
I was invited by Philip Baker, Canadian ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti, to be the hosting chef for the Canada 150 celebrations at the Canadian embassy in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
Creating a menu utilizing both Canadian and Ethiopian ingredients was no small feat. As a chef, two skills one must continually hone are the ability to be adaptable and a sense of imagination. The concept of Canadian cuisine is one I often reflect upon, as it can be very difficult to clearly define. We are a nation which celebrates diversity in culture, and cuisine is a cornerstone of cultural identity. We have roots and traditions that range from our First Nations to the countless waves of immigrants from all corners of the earth. I wanted to express my love for as much of our cultural tapestry as possible, while keeping it simple, straightforward and approachable.
I knew lobster was a key ingredient; what better way to champion and celebrate Prince Edward Island? It was a surreal moment in my career, preparing lobster rolls in Africa, and is still something I can hardly believe I had the opportunity to do. The nearly 1,000 guests of the ambassador loved our lobster, I must joyfully share.
Another important, and in many ways the most treasured part of my trip, was the request to work with local women to prepare this meal. Part of the diplomatic mission for Canada in Ethiopia is to help raise the status of women and children. I shared my knowledge, skills and stories with female cooks and expressed the wisdom I have learned along the way, which has allowed me to develop a strong personal brand. Ultimately, I feel I am the one who learned the most. Life is truly a wonder when viewed through the lens of simplicity, and authenticity. I enjoyed cooking and sharing stories with my kitchen crew. I will never forget it.
Chef Ilona Daniel creates an Ethiopian-style beef stew at the home of her friend, Billie-Jane Buell, in Brackley Beach on Monday