A humanitarian and amateur chef reflects on Africa, cooking, and what he’s learned from those two passions.
Ditchfield begins his collection of nonfiction stories with a tale of a meeting that changed the course of his life: Noel, the chef at an upscale restaurant, mentored the author and took him on a trip to Ethiopia. There, and later in Rwanda, Ditchfield saw the devastation of hunger, HIV, and genocide, which he puts into excellent perspective for Western audiences: “Imagine three 9/11s every day for one hundred days.” In each chapter, he examines his trips and humanitarian work using the framework of a cooking lesson. For example, stories of Rwandan forgiveness fall under the heading of “Simmer, Don’t Stir—Demonstrate Your Patience.” In this way, the author relates powerful experiences that shaped his worldview. Most notably, he tells the story of Daniel, one of the “lost boys” of Sudan who came to the United States to make a new life. Daniel was wheelchair-bound, but was always “standing tall” in the author’s eyes. He asked Ditchfield to help him return to Africa, bring aid to refugee camps, and accompany him into Sudan to find his own mother. From devastated countryside to comfortable kitchens, the author relates his encounters in clear, confident prose and carefully balances hard facts and statistics about emerging nations with playful observations and hopeful good humor. The cookbooklike structure is a cute conceit but it’s not always successful. Sometimes the kitchen and restaurant metaphors paint the contrast between Western and African lives with shocking precision: “Most people in emerging nations…look inside themselves, where a reflection of despair and anguish is their special of the day.” Unfortunately, the author stretches many of these metaphors too thin. The constant equation of types of people to utensils, for example, undermines the more straightforward, serious accounts, and the author’s powerful firsthand knowledge becomes clouded by vague personal philosophy.
series of moving, important stories from a passionate humanitarian that’s
sometimes overshadowed by its clever concept.