interviews
Interview

A chat with Victor Faye and Julie Basset about the Villa Saint-Louis Ndar

We needed to summon the world to Saint-Louis to come and see Senegal in order to explore universal issues.

Founded in 2019 by the Institut français in Senegal, with the support of the Fabrique des résidences, Villa Saint-Louis Ndar has joined the prestigious network of French cultural villas around the world. It has already welcomed nearly a hundred artists from all over the world and with a variety of backgrounds. Almost five years after its launch, Victor Faye, coordinator of Villa Saint-Louis Ndar, looks back on the evolution of this project, with Julie Basset, one of the chefs hosted as part of the new culinary residency Waañ Wi, created in 2023. 

Published on 27/11/2023

5 min

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Villa Ndar, Saint-Louis (Sénégal)
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© Adama Douno Sambou

Villa Saint-Louis Ndar was inaugurated in 2019. Victor, can you explain to us how the place came about, and its aim? The architectural project also seems worthy of a brief mention, if you'd like to tell us about it? 

We worked on the Villa Saint-Louis Ndar project throughout 2018. The support of La Fabrique des résidences from the Institut français Paris was decisive in implementing it, since this support allowed us to think about rooting the project in the area. It is precisely this aspect that makes each residency around the world unique: the ability to identify the potential in the local area and to shape a residency that responds to this context, which showcases the resources there. The considerable tangible, intangible and natural heritage of Saint-Louis largely motivated this location in the heart of the city. We needed to summon the world here to come and see Senegal in order to explore universal issues and come up with unique answers. 

The ecological aspect was always key throughout our development work on the Villa. In fact, it was due to this that the architectural project was carefully designed in order for the building to incorporate new energy and environmental standards, right from the renovation stage. First of all, the existing structure and elements had to be retained and recycled as much as possible. Secondly, we opted for compressed earth bricks made in Senegal, and the other materials that were used in the construction of the building also came from Senegal. For the paint, we used lime, a mineral found in the country that allows the walls to breathe naturally while being protected from moisture. All furniture and accessories were designed, mocked up and made using local materials and with craftspeople from Saint-Louis, Thiès and Dakar. 

Finally, all around the old building, we added a second skin in the form of an earth brick wall to promote thermal insulation and reduce heat transfer between the outside heat and the cool interior. In addition, the large number of windows improve ventilation and increase the light within the building. All of this helps reduce energy consumption. As a result, we guarantee thermal comfort without the need for air conditioners for almost nine months a year. As you can see, the ecological issue is very much a part of the Villa's identity. 

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Villa Saint-Louis Ndar
© Adama Douno Sambou

You are the coordinator of Villa Saint-Louis Ndar. What is your day-to-day role and how do you make this establishment part of the local ecosystem in order to promote dialogue between French and African artists? How do you feel about the first five years of the Villa? 

The challenge was to find a person dedicated to welcoming and supporting artists, and that's my day-to-day job work. This personalised support is important when arriving in a country like Senegal and I was chosen to help welcome residents. Having grown up in Senegal and then worked in France, I have experience in both countries, which makes it possible to hear and understand the expectations of residents from elsewhere and what people here want to convey to them. I need to provide the people arriving with historical and cultural information, depending on the projects and requests, and then meet the residents every morning to discuss how their project is developing and maturing. My role is to answer questions or direct them to the people who can provide them with answers. I would say that the last five years have been quite complex in that Covid broke the momentum of the Villa and some of the dynamics in place; we had to find alternatives so that residents did not have to travel to come here. So far, we have hosted around a hundred residencies in five years, across all disciplines. 

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Victor Faye
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Victor Faye
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I would say that the last five years have been quite complex in that Covid broke the momentum of the Villa and some of the dynamics in place; we had to find alternatives so that residents did not have to travel to come here.

Villa Saint-Louis Ndar expanded in 2023, with the launch of the gastronomic residency Waañ Wi. How did it come about? 

We emphasise multidisciplinarity, so we felt that gastronomy should be represented in our programme. Especially since we realised there was a need, locally, for this project, and we launched a partnership with Table Pana, a chefs' residency dedicated to new African gastronomy in Dakar. We have also worked with Chefs In Africa, a platform that aims to tell the story of Africa in a different way, through gastronomy. We then thought that we could create an exchange between French and African chefs to explore a new way of approaching gastronomy through art and taste. 

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Villa Saint-Louis Ndar
© Angela Sorbaioli

Julie, you were one of the first culinary artists to take part in the residency in Saint-Louis. Why did you want to participate in Waañ Wi and what was your aim when applying? 

I didn't apply directly for the residency, Nadia Kopogo from Table Pana contacted me. The timing was perfect because I was just back from East Africa, where I spent more than two years, mainly in Tanzania. When I returned to France, I missed Africa and I didn't hesitate for a single second to accept, even though I had never been to Senegal. I spent ten, very full days, on the residency, where I was able to experience a programme of cultural and heritage visits, through Victor and the entire Table Pana team, the Institut français and key figures from Saint-Louis, before meeting fishermen and doing some creative sessions. It was really interesting to cook and to go to the market, and it was a good fit for me because I always work with local products. I took the opportunity to take a lot of pictures because I also do photography and video. I felt very lucky to be part of the adventure. 

 

How did the residency go? What were the key parts? 

Victor Faye: The core of the project was to use exclusively natural products from the Saint-Louis region in order to encourage young chefs to value them, and to offer them in these prestigious places perceived as temples of good taste and well-being. It was also a way of giving restaurants in Saint-Louis the opportunity toupdate their menu with a unique offering, in line with the local ecosystem. This type of residency teaches us about local needs, about deconstructing a kind of simplistic relationship with food. The majority of the products used during this residency were what we refer to in our language as products for the poor, products that we overlook now. For example, at this residency, chefs made: fonio balls, red palm oil ketchup smoked with baobab wood - mangrove oyster and clam tartare with citrus and sapotilla, moringa and fried herbs – thiof (grouper) sashimi, vegetable carpaccio, peanut marinade, lime and red bissap – mini ablos with moringa, beugueudj (sauce made with sorrel leaves) - fish roe glazed with Sahel fruit caramel – spiced thiof accras, mango and herb sauce vierge– millet choux buns, peanut praline, chocolate fonio streusel – octopus salad, steamed okra, cherry tomatoes, tamarind sauce – cannoli of rice from Walo (northern Senegal), corn, sorghum crust, Ndar filling – fonio gressini, coconut, cheese from N'Guelakh (a community farm located 19 kmsouth-east of Saint-Louis, which practises permaculture), chocolate. We wanted to make it very aesthetic, delicious and elaborate. 

Julie Basset: I truly learned new things and discovered ingredients that I didn't know how to use. My cooking is very curious, bistro-meets-fusion, so when I don't know something, I love putting my own twist on it, especially since fish and seafood are some of my favourite ingredients. As Victor said, Senegal has a bit of a shortage in terms of hospitality and catering, so I hope that other events and collaborations like these will continue to be organised. It’s very inspiring, because food-based professions and kitchen work are not valued whatsoever. 

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Julie Basset
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Julie Basset
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I truly learned new things and discovered ingredients that I didn't know how to use.

Julie, you shared your residency with chefs Senda Waguena and Omar Ngom. Have any projects come out of this?

Initially, I only came for this residency, but I wanted to stay in Senegal for a while. I met up with Omar, who works in an Italian fine dining restaurant in Dakar, but we didn't have the opportunity to work together again because of our schedules. In Dakar, I ended up focusing on photography, drawing and the creative side of my life. So I was able to move on to another residency, Black Rock, which is dedicated to artists, where I did some food consulting work. I spent two months consulting there and it was rewarding and intense. 

 

To conclude, Victor, can you tell us about the future prospects of Villa Saint-Louis Ndar, and in particular about the network of residencies set to be created in Senegal and Gambia?

This is one of our major prospects. It feels like there's an increasing demand, and to be honest, I get frustrated at having to reject applications due to lack of space. We therefore want to move towards the coastline of West Africa, to cities that have the same issues as Saint-Louis. This coastline, which stretches from Nouadhibou to Bissau, has a considerable ecosystem and diversity that has shaped various societies, cultures and traditions . We came up with a network of residencies that could represent the current ecosystem and cultural issues to see what forms of resistance and resilience exist today. The aim of creating this network is to facilitate the mobility of French artists or artists from French-speaking areas, in a place that offers a multitude of resources that are very under-explored in France. 

Pour en savoir plus sur la Villa

L'institut français, LAB