This chef ran away from home – and never looked back

 
 
 

Ibrahim Abdi was forced to make a choice when he realised he was gay. It wasn’t just ostracisation he faced, but imprisonment. In Somalia, homosexuality is still a crime. Abdi could either stay and risk jail, or leave his home country. So with money stolen from his brother, the 15-year-old hit the road early one morning. After an arduous year-long journey, Abdi reached South Africa to make a new life for himself. Years later, he’s creating a stir in our kitchens.

“I was lucky enough to have been welcomed in Cape Town,” Abdi says. As he set down roots, he returned to his first love – cooking. Food played a central role in Abdi’s childhood. His mother created dishes for weddings in their hometown. Each meal was a festive occasion. “I learnt to associate food with happiness and belonging,” Abdi says. Preparing East African food with a mix of Indian flavour, he worked his way up to becoming a chef in South Africa.

Abdi hopes to open a vegan restaurant one day. He’s also committed to teaching others his craft. “Passing on the cooking skills makes me feel connected to my new home,” Abdi says. Last year, he demonstrated his talent during the first Refugee Food Festival in Cape Town. He hasn’t returned to Somalia, but he’s forged a sense of family here. “I found home in what I love,” Abdi says. “I have a community of people who I can be myself with.” Through his sumptuous dishes, Abdi is sharing his story with South Africa. “There’s nothing that makes you happier than being authentic,” he says.