Many who travel to Paris, France often share that outside of delicious pastries and French macarons, the food isn’t the best. But, three Black-owned restaurants across the city are looking to change that while also redefining the term Afropean cuisine.
In 2015, Afro Parisian chef Lionel Chauvel-Maga opened his soul food restaurant Gumbo Yaya. Although his father is French and his mother is from Benin, Chauvel-Maga says that his inspiration for the restaurant was drawn from his trips to Macon, Georgia to visit family members.
“I wanted to bring back the savors and ambiance I experienced when I visited my aunts [in Georgia] as a child,” Lionel Chauvel-Maga said in an interview with Eater. “And when we have African Americans who come here, they’re touched to see that there are French people who really value soul food. There’s pride, a heritage there to maintain.”
The menu is made up of the staples that you would expect to find on an American soul food restaurant menu, but with the chef’s own twists and interpretations.
A year or so after Gumbo Yaya’s opening, chef Ludovic Florella began hosting soul food pop-up brunches that coincided with screenings of classic Black movies. The pop-ups drew such high demand that Florella opened a brick-and-mortar.
Much like chef Chauvel-Maga, Florella’s inspiration was drawn from his trips to Louisiana and experiencing soul food firsthand.
Mama Jackson, located near Paris’ Gare de Lyon train station, is an all around ode to Black American culture. From the music playing over the speakers to the art hanging on the walls.
“We aren’t African American, but since we were young we have been influenced by this music, this aesthetic, this lifestyle,” Brice Naranassamy, co-owner of Mama Jackson said.
While some may say these are just a typical “American soul food spots” opened in Paris, the team at Mama Jackson have worked to add their own French flare to the cuisine, while acknowledging its roots in the American south.
You will find dishes such as sweet potato croquettes, macaroni and cheese with a cheddar and a béchamel base, as well as caramel pain perdu made with a buttery brioche on the menu.
Brothers Joël and Rudy Lainé popped onto the scene around the same time as Mama Jackson with their food truck L’Afro Truck. In 2019, they officially opened their permanent location under the name New Soul Food-Le Maquis.
The brothers are on a mission to define what they are calling new soul food. Their cuisine takes its influence from their French and Cameroon roots, and they are hoping to produce dishes that give the term Afropean new meaning.
“I’m proud to be French and European,” Rudy says in an interview. “But, calling myself ‘Afropean’ makes more sense than saying I’m either just African or French. To the French, we’re noirs, and when I go to Africa, I’m français, so we’re somewhere in the middle and Afropean really captures that.”