Punk Rock HR Episode 132:
My guest today is Pierre Thiam. He was raised in Senegal, but he is a New York-based chef, author, restauranteur, social entrepreneur, and culinary ambassador. Pierre is best known for bringing West African cuisine to the global fine-dining world. He is also the Executive Chef and co-owner of Teranga, a fast-casual food chain from New York City.
Pierre’s company, Yolele Foods, advocates for small farmers by opening up new markets for crops grown in Africa. Its signature product, fonio, is found at Whole Foods, Amazon, and other retailers across America.
Chef Pierre is on my show because I think he has an interesting perspective on COVID and what’s happening to small businesses, but also the climate crisis and, more importantly, leadership. We have an awesome conversation that highlights how an immigrant who got stuck in New York City can truly get things done. To learn more, sit back and enjoy this conversation with Pierre Thiam.
In this episode you’ll hear:
- Pierre’s origin story.
- The intense food culture in which he grew up.
- How important his life in Senegal was for his career.
- What West African flavors and fonio are.
- The multifaceted work that he does.
- The connection between politics and food in the US.
- His message for those who are feeling lost or worried about the current state of the world.
WHAT KIND OF WORK DOES PIERRE DO?
Pierre wears many hats. He is a chef in New York City, but he sees that as an opportunity to fight for justice. He aims to help farmers in West Africa, the poorest farmers in the world, by finding opportunities for them. This also helps bring great products to consumers who are more conscious of what they’re eating. In that way, he considers himself an activist. Other than that, he’s a chef and the author of multiple cookbooks.
WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN COMMUNITY AND FOOD?
Pierre’s restaurant, Teranga, is part of the community. They are located in the African center in Harlem. There are regulars who rely solely on them for their food. During COVID, they were able to keep serving the community by selling food for delivery or pickup and later partnering with a nearby hospital to serve food to the first responders. They also realized that there were kids in Harlem who relied on their schools to feed them. Without school in session, these kids lived in shelters. So, Teranga became the place they went for food. They also collaborated with Harlem Grown, an amazing organization in Harlem. From these experiences, Pierre knows firsthand that restaurants that stay standing during COVID have to be restaurants that consider the situation and the communities they are in. The general community needs healing right now and food is an amazing way to bring that healing.
WHAT DOES HE HAVE TO SAY TO THOSE WHO ARE FEELING LOST OR WORRIED ABOUT THE CURRENT STATE OF THE WORLD?
Pierre says that we have to see this time in the world as an opportunity for growth. It’s not a moment to shrink, but to see what wasn’t working in our system and get rid of it. He also says that we have to do this as a whole, not as individuals. When we are lost and confused, we need to trace back our steps and correct what was wrong. This is a moment when we get to look back and find inspiration for how things can be better.
Resources from this episode: