There’s a big change on the menu for talented chef Erick Moboti, who is swapping fine dining in an historic setting for a new challenge in Africa.
Instead of serving up sumptuous dishes at Ashridge House, he’s going back to basics with a project that aims to teach young people about sustainable agriculture through opening their eyes to the possibilities of homegrown food and traditional local recipes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Erick said: “It will be very challenging, as it’s never been done before and nobody really has any idea where to start.
“The country has such rich fertile land, but people have given up on farming, instead focusing on minerals like diamonds, gold and copper.”
As well as designing and setting up a farm close to the capital of Kinshasa to help feed and teach children from four local primary schools, Eric will be developing a theory on the sustainability of farming in Africa, looking into ways of reducing reliance on fertilisers.
Erick, who describes himself as an “accidental” chef, will be heading out to the country where he was born in January to lead a team of young engineers on the pioneering mission.
He said: “This is a very testing time for me but I believe that what we are trying to achieve is also very doable, thanks to the support of the people here at Ashridge, my team and the people in the DRC.”
With about 600 acres of land to play with, Erick has the right ingredients to make a big impact on the agricultural landscape of the country.
He also hopes his methods will create a legacy in supporting gender equality amongst the Congolese work force:
“I think this will make a social impact on the role of women in business and it’s an issue we are trying to bring to the forefront,” he said.
It will certainly be a world away from his work at Ashridge, and his career in cookery.
He trained at Hitchin Priory and then moved on to develop his skills at St Michael’s Manor in St Albans before arriving at Ashridge in 2010.
Erick, a head chef since he was 27, admits that the high end cuisine he has been providing for discerning diners at the Grade I listed landmark has its down side.
He said: “I had a lot of mixed feelings about what I was doing in fine dining because of the waste.
“It was all prime cuts of meat and fish, and everything else that had to be thrown away in the process.”
But there are similarities, too – by supporting local suppliers and putting the focus on cooking foods seasonally, the Ashridge kitchen has been working hard to make itself as sustainable as possible.
As well as dishing up 500 meals a day with his team, Erick is taking a sustainability and responsibility degree course at Ashridge.
He says that the course has challenged him to develop ways of work that are healthy for the planet as well as people.
“It has developed my passion for change and given me the tools and skills to experiment,” he said.
“My new role will enable me to focus on developing sustainable agricultural practices, growing food and guiding chefs to make decisions that enhance sustainability.
“I will still be studying when I go to the DRC so the link with Ashridge will remain strong, as it’s such an important environment for ideas and advice.”
But as Erick plans for his adventure, Ashridge is now looking for his replacement – find out more at www.ashridgehouse.org.uk