Chef, author and activist Pierre Thiam (pronounced Chee-Ahm) was raised in Dakar, a bustling and culturally diverse West African metropolis. He came to the US to pursue a degree in physics and chemistry from a university in Ohio, but during a stopover in New York City, all of Thiam’s money was stolen. Instead of giving up and flying home, he found work at a restaurant in the West Village and quickly found himself pursuing a different kind of chemistry.
Starting literally from the bottom as a bus boy, he was drawn to what was going on the kitchen, which was out of bounds for males back in Senegal. He learned as much as he could through book research, and convinced the chef to give him a chance with prep work. Over the course of a few years, Thiam steadily climbed up the culinary ladder to Chef de cuisine at Boom and Two Rooms and acquainted diners with African-inspired tasting menus.
By 2001 he opened his first restaurant, Yolele, a visionary African bistro in Brooklyn. His second one followed three years later. Le Grand Dakar quickly became a culinary and cultural locus for Africans from the continent and the Diaspora as well as Africa-philes.
The author of two groundbreaking cookbooks, his first, Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal, was a nominated finalist of the IACP Julia Child Cookbook Award and a Special Jury Award Winner at The Gourmand World Cookbook in Paris, France. It is currently featured in the Cultural Expressions section at the Smithsonian’s New Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).
His second book, SENEGAL: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl was a finalist for the James Beard award for Best International Cookbook.
Thiam has been featured on numerous TV programs including Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, CNN’s Inside Africa and the Food Network‘s Iron Chef.
He has also spoken on various prominent radio shows including NPR’s “Leonard Lopate Show”, “The Splendid Table” and “Here and Now”, as well as on Martha Stewart Living Radio. His life, career and contribution to African cooking has also been highlighted in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, LA Times, The Village Voice, Boston Globe, Saveur Magazine, Essence Magazine and many others.
A leading advocate for world hunger alleviation, as well as a spokesperson for the rich culinary history of Africa and its Diaspora, Thiam has been invited as a guest lecturer and guest chef across the globe to speak on these topics.