A passionate chef who loves to share his expert advice
Just five minutes away from the beaches in Saint-Gilles, we took part in a Creole cookery class with Chef Yann, from the team at Pépé José. This company on Reunion Island was founded by Mickaël Rivière and his wife Anne-Laure Ringanadepoulle, and it is named after the ‘Pépé José’ tomato. They started off with ready-to-cook hampers and in 2020 began offering sweet and savoury cooking classes for adults and children on Reunion Island. By offering this authentic experience, the team wanted to help beginners learn about traditional Creole cuisine, and learn how to cook dishes such as ‘Rougail Saucisses’ (sausages), chili bites and chicken cari.
A typically Creole meal, from A to Z.
We got a warm welcome from the friendly Chef Yann when we arrived. He is passionate about the world of Creole food. He honed his skills at the Centhor training school, and often quotes Christian Antou. We arrived in a warehouse fitted with a professional kitchen and we were instantly plunged into the atmosphere of a cookery TV programme. We were given aprons and chef’s hats to wear and told that we were going to learn how to make chicken samosas, swordfish cari with kaffir lime, rice and grains, green papaya gratin and galabé flambéed pineapple for dessert. Just after reading the menu, we were already drooling. For Chef Yann, it is a real challenge passing on his culinary expertise to a group, and he does so with great care and attention.
A gourmet experience discovering local ‘péi’ products.
But before getting started in the kitchen, we headed out to the vegetable garden. There were two other participants with me for this class, both of them had come to live on Reunion Island for a year. They decided to take part in a Creole cooking class before leaving the island.
As we walked around the vegetable garden, we had the opportunity to put our knowledge of Reunion Island’s fruit, vegetables and herbs to the test, and learn all about these products that are used every day in Creole cuisine. The simplicity of this place and the way the Chef spoke so passionately about the garden made me want to create my very own Creole vegetable garden at home!
When we got back into the kitchen, the team put on some Séga music and ‘Bel Sèr’ by the band Na Essayé was our background music as we cooked. Before we got started, Yann told us, “I’m going to show you my version of Creole cuisine, but each family on Reunion Island has their own way of cooking!”
A step-by-step cooking class
We began by making samosas. These little triangles with a spicy filling are fried and served as a pre-dinner snack. They are “the Reunion Island version of the Indian speciality, brought to the island by settlers from South India”, explained Yann. We carried on our discussion with the Chef as we cooked and he reminded us that Reunion Island cuisine comes from a melting pot of European, Indian, Asian and African populations who have come to live here over the centuries.
After that, we made cari, an adaptation of the Indian ‘curry’. We started preparing the ingredients, following the Chef’s top tips and listening to his anecdotes as we worked! I used a pestle and mortar to prepare the garlic and ginger. This cooking utensil is great for getting the most out of the flavours, for a delicious Creole cari! We grated the kaffir lime and the fragrant zest would give our swordfish cari an extra kick. I followed the recipe and Chef Yann’s instructions to the letter, to save time and to make sure my dish was as accurate as possible. Everyone had a role to play: preparing the Creole-style rice, cooking the lentils, preparing the green papaya for the gratin, etc. The room was filled with delicious scents and everyone’s stomachs started to rumble.
A ‘Scents Quiz’
Before beginning the dessert, the Chef had an interesting activity for us. After he told us all about the wide range of influences in Creole cuisine, we played a ‘guess the scent’ game. Each participant had to guess the spices. There was a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. We discovered galabé, a traditional form of sugar cane juice, used to add flavour to our Victoria pineapples. Yann guided us in how to prepare this fruit with spiky leaves, that would be flambéed in the famous Reunion Island rum.
Once the meal was ready, our fun, enjoyable experience was already over. We were given our creations to take away with us. We then headed to the beaches of Saint-Gilles-les-Bains, just a few minutes away from where we were cooking with Yann. We couldn’t wait to taste our delicious, lovingly prepared dishes, on the beach. We were excited at the thought of making these dishes again to impress our loved ones!