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Dia, Rougui (1976– )

"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Internationally renowned chef Rougui Dia’s Muslim parents, a housemaid and a mechanic, arrived in France from a village of N’Ganno in Senegal, a former French colony in West Africa. She grew up with her six brothers and sisters in the old working-class city of Neuilly-Plaisance seven miles east of Paris. In sharing household chores with her siblings, at age thirteen she was encouraged by her mother, Aïssata, to begin cooking African-inspired dishes (mainly traditional Fula meals) for the family.

Rather than following the usual educational path, she chose instead to enroll in vocational cooking and catering classes at the École Hôtelière Villepinte that led to a practitioner’s certification in 1999 that she could present to prospective employers. At age fifteen, she landed an internship at a Paris restaurant and by 1986, at age twenty-one, she was perfecting her skills at Chez Jean on Paris’s Right Bank. A mentor recommended her to work under Chef Sébastien Faré at the Parisian restaurant Le Louvre where she rose from clerk to sous-chef de cuisine (second in command in the kitchen). In 2000 she began as vegetable cook and progressed to sous-chef under Chef Phillipe Conticini at Le Petrossian 144, 7th arrondissement, a leading Paris restaurant celebrated for its fine caviar, seafood, and dessert creations. After five years, she was promoted to head chef in 2005 at the age of twenty-nine, igniting a media frenzy.

Dia recalled her entrance into the exclusive world of French haute cuisine in her autobiography, Le Chef est une Femme (The Chef is a Woman), published in 2006. She remained at Le Petrossian 144 where she incorporated Senegalese, Indian, and Caribbean cuisine in the menu until 2013 when she moved to Le Vraymonde at the Buddha-Bar Hotel Paris, again as executive chef. This restaurant is best known for its outstanding Asian dishes.

In 2014 Dia, still one of the few women of any race to direct a haute cuisine kitchen, was awarded the coveted Trofemina Trophy, given to exceptional female professionals by the French magazine Tentation for not only her culinary achievements but also her efforts to boost the number of female and minority race chefs and restaurateurs. She has been called the “New Black Pearl of Paris” and compared to entertainer Josephine Baker who rose to prominence in Paris in the 1920s. Dia is also known as the “African Queen of Parisian Cuisine.”

Sources:
Rougui Dia, Le chef est une femme (Paris: Jean-Claude Gawsewitch Éditeur, 2006); Monique Y. Wells, “The New Black Pearl of Paris” at  http://entreetoblackparis.blogspot.com/2010/09/new-black-pearl-of-paris.html; Kiratiana Freelon, “The Queen of Parisian Cuisine” at http://awomansparis.com/2012/05/19/the-african-queen-of-parisian-cuisine/.

Contributor(s):
Fikes, Robert
San Diego State University

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