Yasmine Fofana’s Solution to Abidjan’s Online Food Information Problem

Yasmine Fofana obtained a Bachelor of Science in business administration with a focus on international business at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, US and a Master’s in International Tourism Development from the University of Surrey in the UK.

With a background in marketing and communication, she began content creation in 2012, launching Ivory Coast’s first food blog, “Journal d’une Foodie” now rebranded as “Afrofoodie”  after an encounter that exposed her to the absence of handy information in Abidjan’s culinary scene. Yasmine had won a dinner lottery for two at a restaurant in the capital city of Abidjan. She didn’t have substantial knowledge about the restaurant beforehand and her effort to source ample information was futile as no platforms were showcasing Abidjan’s culinary scene. 

While in the restaurant’s parking lot, feeling disappointed at the absence of quality information, Yasmine came about the idea of creating a blog to document her experiences with eating around the city. This gesture was a solution to a personal problem and resulted in a beneficial outlet for publicising the country’s culinary scene in the long run.

Yasmine initiated the inaugural “Abidjan Restaurant Week” in 2017. Her contribution to promoting Côte d’Ivoire’s culinary scene with the world has been recognized, as she was selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow in 2016 through the Young Africa Leaders Initiative (YALI) under President Obama, a Chevening Scholar by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office for the 2017/2018 academic year, and a beneficiary of the 2019-2020 African Women Entrepreneurship Cooperative (AWEC).  She was recently appointed as the World Food Tourism Association Ambassador for Côte d’Ivoire. 

Yasmine is presently striving to boost gastronomy tourism in West Africa and is in partnership with the non-profit organization Africa No Filter as a Narrative Champion.

What’s your daily routine as a food blogger?

Well, I’m a mum and a wife. Before content creation, I primarily cater for my family, making sure they’re okay. I get the kids ready for school, and my husband leaves for work with the kids. I  start working right after they leave, so my work days start around 9 up until 3 or 4 when I go to get the kids at school. That’s pretty much how my day starts every day except for the weekends.

What makes the weekends different?

The family is home, so I get to spend more time with family. My husband and I are very intentional about spending time with our kids. For example, I know a lot of families have nannies to look after their children, but we decided not to, even though we live in a country where it’s very popular.

When it comes to work, how do you go about creating content for brands?

It depends. For instance, my most recent collaboration was with a mayonnaise company. The deliverables entailed creating recipes with the product, doing photoshoots and participating in a promotion campaign for a book they were putting together for the recipes. So, in that case, the process involved thinking about the recipe, the concept and how I want it to look like, the kinds of products to use, and brainstorming before actually doing the recipes and shoots. 

That’s the first part. The other part involves taking pictures and posting them online for social media content. While doing this, it’s essential to interact with the community as well. I always like to say to people that being a content creator, in my case, is so much more than just restaurant hopping and taking pictures. I am my community manager, social media manager, and accountant  I pretty much do everything on my own. 

It’s understandable. Are there cases where you employ extra hands?

I had other collaborations in 2022 that focused on long-format videos. I had to work with other people on the project because I couldn’t do everything alone. Long-format videos to post on YouTube also requires thinking about a concept, brainstorming, looking for locations and things like that.

In summary, content creation varies from one client to the other, and no two days are the same, which is interesting in a good way.

On average how many hours of research do you do for every post?

That’s a good question, but a hard one because I’ve never thought about it. If it’s just research about a client, sometimes I get all the info in an email. If I want to educate people on local cuisine, it takes more time because I’ll have to look for french resources and then translate them into English, most of my content, when I’m not lazy, is bilingual. So it depends. It could go anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours depending on the content I’m trying to put out.

When it comes to food blogging, I know you travel to other parts of Africa? How do you navigate that?

For the past two years, I’ve had collaborations that allowed me to travel. I work with tourism organizations. I have also collaborated with the UNWTO and Africa Tourism Partners, so I get to travel for work purposes, but I always link it to food at the end of the day because, well, we have to eat three times a day, so there’s always an opportunity to create content. I’ve travelled to Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana and Senegal.

Are your travel decisions mostly influenced by work?

Yes, it’s mainly for work purposes, but it’s only because my real life and my work are so linked that even if I travel for work unless I tell you, you won’t know. This is because I always put up food out there. I guess that’s what makes my content interesting. I always talk about food.

Based on what you just said, do you regard food blogging as a job or a hobby?

As of today, it’s a job. For the longest time, I considered it a hobby but I always told myself that when it becomes stressful, I would stop. I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself when I started because I didn’t want to feel obligated to do it. Sometimes you don’t want to do something, but you feel obligated to do so, and I felt like if I put so much pressure on myself, the result wouldn’t come out right. Initially,  I thought of it as a hobby, but now I think of it as a job, even though I don’t feel like I’m working sometimes, it’s still a lot of work.

Have you gone around the world, or is it just the continent?

I wish. I studied in the US so I lived there for six years, and I did my master’s in the UK, so I got the chance to travel, but not around the world. That’s too wide to say, but I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a lot in my life.

What part of the continent do you think has the best cuisine?

West Africa, hands down. It’s not even a debate. 

Is there a country? I know it’s most definitely Nigeria.

You know what, our food is very similar. I was in Lagos this year for the GTCO food and drink festival, the theme for this year was street food and when I took the pictures and posted them, somebody told me “If you didn’t say it was in Lagos, I’d think you were in Ivory Coast.” Some of our street foods are very similar. We’re the same people, but we got divided by colonization, right? So our food around West Africa is very similar in a sense. I haven’t tasted all there is in Nigeria but I know Jollof rice is bae.

Ouuuuu so tell me, Ghana Jollof or Nigerian Jollof?

Nigerian Jollof. But I’m biased because my best friend is Nigerian and the first Jollof I had was Nigerian. So I’ll always have that particular link to it because she made it for me when we were students in the US. I guess that memory of tasting it for the first time always plays in my mind when I think about Jollof rice.

That’s interesting. Around the world, which country would you say has the best cuisine outside Africa?

This is going to be biased because I don’t have much experience, but out of my little experience, Italy has amazing cuisine. We all eat pasta and pizza because that is all we know most of the time. I’m not a pasta fan, but I went to Venice about two months ago and oh my God, just thinking about it makes me happy. The food I had was nowhere near what I’ve had before. It was so different, and it was so simple in the making as well. They didn’t go overboard with too much sauce or anything. It was just right, and for me, it was the best. French gastronomy is also very interesting because they are very creative with their food. The French love good food, but if I had to choose, it would be Italy.

Have you ever eaten something that threw your body system off balance? 

No, actually. Even though I’m inquisitive about food and I keep an open mind to anything, I’m also very careful. For instance, I love seafood, but I would not eat seafood everywhere because you can get sick, you know? The same thing for street food.  I love street food but I’m always conscious of where I eat the street food and even though street food is not the cleanest, especially in Africa, you can try to guess from the look of the place how clean or hygienic it’s going to be. So I’m always conscious and I always pray before I eat anywhere like God I’m not trying to die, I’m just doing my job. For as long as I can remember, I haven’t had a bad experience like getting sick or going to the hospital or anything, I try to be careful about where I eat and what I eat.

It’s good to be on the safe side. When you’re not food blogging, what do you do for fun?

I like to clean my house. I like to be in neat environments. Like I said earlier, we are on our own with no help, so when I’m not working, I set an hour making sure our house is neat. It makes me calm down. Also if I’m brainstorming about something, instead of just sitting in front of the computer and thinking, I’ll get up and start folding, washing, or just being occupied with other things while still having the idea at the back of my mind.  Also, I love listening to podcasts, which always help me spark ideas. 

Do you have favourite podcasts?

Oh, I do. I have a lot.

Can you name a few?

Because I evolve in Gastronomy Tourism as a niche and tourism generally speaking some of my favorites are : Voyages Afriq – The Travel and Tourism podcast, Eat Well, Travel Better Podcast, Item 13 : An African Food Podcast

Not related to food at all, I love The Mel Robbins Podcast, Hidden Brain, Limitless Africa, Women on Top, Conversation Privée, Les Papotages de C. and Passion of Business.

I have a lot more but let’s just stop here ! As you can tell, I love podcasts and I also like to read as well. Anything that kind of stimulates my mind. It doesn’t have to be linked to food. It could be anything inspiring and capable of triggering or sparking an idea. 

What lessons have you learnt from food blogging?

I learnt that consistency is key, because of how the algorithm works if you’re not out there then that’s it. Doesn’t matter if you’ve done it for 10 years or 20 years, you’re not Beyonce so you cannot just go and come back like people will remember who you are. You have to put in the work consistently, that never stops no matter how many years you’ve been doing this.

Another thing is you always have to remember why you started because there will be times of frustration, a lot of it. I don’t even want to go in there, but you’ll experience social media fatigue. And there are so many things happening in the space. It’s fast-paced. You can get overwhelmed. You need to reflect and ask why did I start this. What was my vision back then? Where has it taken me and where am I going? I reflect on my directions and collaborations a lot in a healthy way. Tomorrow’s another day, keep working and remember why you started.

Another lesson is that you never stop learning. I fought for the longest time to stay off TikTok, because I was like, “I’m too old for this.” I don’t understand TikTok.Then someone that I work with said, “Well, you do reels, so just repost your reels on TikTok, that’s it.” And I was like okay, I’ll do that. I don’t have to understand it, I just have to upload the video and go. So you always have to learn to use new platforms. You can’t refuse to learn because tomorrow, you may have to be on it and grow on it. There’s always something to learn, it could be a new feature on your phone, trying to film a different way, trying to understand a new platform, trying to communicate better. Our job requires a lot of communication, you know, communicating with clients and followers. Most importantly, endeavour to be a better person as you go and grow.

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