One of Seinfeld’s most iconic character was The Soup Nazi, a talented but moody chef who would only serve people who followed his strict set of rules to order. People had to be coached before setting foot in his restaurant, even the slightest mistake could leave them without the delicious food, and yet, people kept coming back. The soup was just so amazing that people could not get enough of it.
Until not very long ago, Ethiopia had its very own version of The Soup Nazi in Chanyalew Mekonnen, also known as Chef Chane. Unlike his TV counterpart, this beloved icon of Ethiopian cuisine inspired more endearment than fear. Where did he come from? Was he always so strict? Let’s find out:
His Humble but Helpful Beginning
Chef Chane got his start as a chef in the royal Palace. There, he said he got to meet many international chefs. He’d closely observed what they did and meticulously study their styles, which informed his own fusion recipes. Though his cuisine had a distinct Ethiopian flavor, his recipes actually called for many international techniques inspired in Pakistani, and Mediterranean cuisine. But it’s not just his food that was inspired by the time in the palace, it also impacted the way he serves customers. He used to say that he had to bow so much during his years in the palace, that he was no longer willing to do it anywhere else, leading to his unorthodox way of treating customers.
The Right Way to Order
Chef Chane passed away in 2017, but before his demise he ran a pretty tight ship. There was a set of rules he expected his patrons to follow: they had to come in on time, lunch was served during just 1 hour and he expected everyone to get there early. There were no menus, Chef Chane served what he wanted to make that day and there were no special requests. He also had a pretty Guerilla-like way of handling his business. Since he was so popular, landlords would always hike up the rent of whatever place he was renting. Then, Chef Chane would leave, lay low for a while, and rent a different place a few months later, his loyal fans following him wherever he decided to go.
His Tough Love Approach
The iconic chef was known to be pretty brutal to his assistants whenever they made a mistake, small as it may seem. So, it wasn’t all just a funny case of neurotic leanings gone too far. He could be pretty mean and demeaning. Though most of the time, he was just surprisingly familiar.
In Ethipian culture, people tend to be pretty formal. So, when entering a business, Ethiopians expect to find business people addressing them in a formal way. Chef Chane broke that. He made lighthearted jokes and spoke his mind with a familiarity that Ethiopians were not used to, making him an instantly intriguing and compelling character. Though this beloved legend is no longer with us, you can still try his recipes as his restaurant still lives through his wife and kids.