Pierre Thiam is a chef, author, and social activist best known for bringing West African cuisine to the global fine dining world. He is the Executive Chef of the award-winning restaurant Nok by Alara in Lagos, Nigeria and the Signature Chef of the 5-star Pullman Hotel in Dakar, Senegal. He is also the executive chef and co-owner of Teranga, a fast-casual food chain from New York City. His company Yolele Foods advocates for smallholder farmers in the Sahel by opening new markets for crops grown in Africa; its signature product, Yolele Fonio, is found in Whole Foods, Amazon, and other retailers across America.
Born and raised in Dakar, Senegal, Thiam's cooking style is at once modern and eclectic, rooted in the rich culinary traditions of West Africa. His first cookbook, Yolele! Recipes From the Heart of Senegal was published in 2009 and was a finalist of the Julia Child Cookbook Award and received the Prix du Jury at the Gourmand Award in Paris. His second cookbook, Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl was a finalist of the James Beard Award for Best International Cookbook in 2016.
Thiam has cooked for the King of Morocco, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Through his advocacy and many media appearances (CNN's Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, Food Network's Iron Chef, BBC Food Programme), he has become known as a culinary ambassador, dedicated to promoting West African cooking throughout the world. His TEDTalk, given at TEDGlobal 2017 in Arusha, Tanzania, has been viewed over one million times. Thiam sits on the board of directors of IDEO.org.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have met in your career?
Pierre : My biggest challenge was when I decided to chart my own course as an African chef after having worked many years in NY restaurant industry. My daughter had just been born and I had never operated a business of my own before. All I had was my desire to be independent and I could cook. Other than that, I was pretty clueless about everything.
Q: How you would describe your company culture?
Pierre : We are like a family. Informal in appearance but still very mission focused. Our superpowers come from holding periodic meetings where everyone share their thoughts regarding the direction we are taking. I try my best to be a good listener because the best decisions have come from these brainstorming sessions.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
Pierre : It's the same approach as in the professional kitchen. I am hands on when its needed but I also like to give responsibilities to my teammates. I know that without a good "mise en place" the food will not be right so I delegate without being too bossy.
Q: What are some challenges or trends you see in hiring today?
Pierre : One the main challenge in hiring is to find people who want to grow with the company. The industry is very competitive and you want to be sure that your staff is happy working with you. My goal is to put my staff in the best possible working conditions. Your team is your most important asset and there is no way to grow without a dedicated team.
Q: Have you ever had an hourly job? If yes, please share with us your experience?
Pierre : Yes, I've worked the line in NY restaurants for many years. It was tough as I always dreamed of being independent but it was also an important learning experience.
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