|Outdoor kitchen in a village near Makoua, Congo|
When my friend who is an interior architect told me she was having a “cuisine” training… I first thought of cuisine as gastronomy. In French, cuisine has got two meanings: the space kitchen and the food itself. So we both laughed, she actually meant a brand training program… And then she added that Senegalese people do not use modern kitchen, they cook outside and their modern kitchen is there for mere decoration and perhaps status; the latter comment is my guessing…
The second thing that came to my mind is how could we design a proper space that could fit our needs as our food is slow cooking process and we use multiple vessels for various dishes at the same time. A kitchen that takes in account real usability: a functional modern kitchen for those who like to keep it modern or a modern-traditional one for large families. I recall visiting a high standard building in Dakar city centre, the sight of the kitchen made me leave the flat and the building straight away. The problem is either people build beautiful, pleasant kitchen space that they do not use or very poorly built, the final details such as tiles are not joined properly, the tap is not well fixed or the sink built next to the stove so all water splashes go directly into the cooking dish.
So how could we design kitchens for Senegalese families?
I have noticed that in many houses, people end up cooking outside, the same happens in my family home for slow cooking dishes. Most families do cook in the yard as I said earlier we tend to use many vessels, meat or fish is marinated for long hours, fried or grilled on charcoal, spices are pounded, large amount of leaves chopped… Just to give out few details of the whole process. So whether it is indoors or outdoors, we should define a space with several areas that would allow the disposal of several various sized vessels, a storage place for large rice bags, condiments, a preparation space, a cooking area etc. And as women tend to work on a lower level, lower benches so women could easily reach out for vessels. Most cookers in the country are low, about 80/90 cm from the floor, the imported stoves are barely used in large families.
I think the country has got talented architects and interior designers who can help out design kitchens that consider families’ needs. I think one aspect of the problem is more linked to those building their houses on their own and do not consult architects or the person who is going to use the space in the house hence the woman as far as kitchen is concerned. Some will tell you that architects are too expensive but they might spend more money building and knocking down unwanted walls, rooms and eventually pouring more money into the project. On the other hand, architects should also understand people holistically to define a project, the relationship between the client and the space, the product. In addition to that they should also consider local material to design yard kitchens inspired by traditional ones as they seem to remain the only space where most people are comfortable cooking. And I also believe at some point some kitchen brands will be ready to develop products that enhance usability in other contexts such as African urban cities. I wish some sort of communication could be established between people and interior architects so people could see the added value that could be brought to their living space.
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