Champions of Change 2022

Champions of Change 2022

Dieuveil Malonga, Olia Hercules & Alissa Timoshkina, Koh Seng Choon

The local food heroes creating positive change

The Champions of Change Award recognises and celebrates unsung heroes of the hospitality sector who are driving meaningful action and creating blueprints for a better world.

Part of the forthcoming The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022 programme, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, Champions of Change forms a key pillar in the evolving 50 Best for Recovery initiative. After being introduced in July 2021 in response to the sector rebuilding and remodelling itself after a challenging 18 months, the award returns this year to support the powerful work of individuals effecting positive change.

A substantial donation will be made to each of the winner’s causes, allowing the recipients to continue building their initiatives and supporting long-term progress in the restaurant and food sphere.

Meet the Champions of Change 2022.

Dieuveil Malonga, Kigali, Rwanda

After moving to Germany at the age of 13, Dieuveil Malonga returned to his native Congo in his twenties and immediately became inspired by the young people he met. The budding chef was travelling across the continent to research and refine his concept for Afro-fusion cuisine, but what he witnessed on his journey changed the course of his life. Driven to assist with the problems that he saw aspiring cooks face, Malonga created Chefs in Africa in 2016. The ground-breaking online platform helps cooks overcome barriers such as discrimination and lack of training, employment and equipment, and already counts more than 4,000 members.

Passionate about promoting his personal interpretation of the diversity of African cuisines, Malonga settled in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2020 to open his first restaurant, Meza Malonga. At the heart of the eatery is a culinary training programme that every year sees 10 aspiring chefs receive scholarships, learn essential cooking skills and take English classes as they prepare to spread the word around Africa’s untapped gastronomic potential. Malonga is working on moving his restaurant to a bigger site in Musanze in 2023, where he is already growing sustainable ingredients alongside local farmers and where he plans to expand the training programme to 15 cooks per year.

Olia Hercules & Alissa Timoshkina, London, UK

Olia Hercules and Alissa Timoshkina met as students in London and became fast friends thanks to their families’ shared heritage – Hercules grew up in Kakhova in Ukraine, while Timoshkina hails from Russia. Years later, the pair reconnected when they both switched careers to pursue their dreams of cooking for a living. Hercules published her cookbook, Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & beyond, in 2015, while Timoshkina married her passions for cinema and food to create a supper club called KinoVino.

When war came to Ukraine, the pair were quick in realising they had a new mission. In a matter of weeks, they launched #CookForUkraine, a restaurants-powered fundraising initiative for UNICEF. The project increases awareness of the humanitarian crisis and raises money to help children and families displaced by the conflict, while also providing a platform for Ukrainians and supporters to share recipes and the stories behind the dishes. By collaborating with restaurants in London to host special dinners and sell specific menu items to raise funds, #CookForUkraine has raised and donated nearly £900,000 in charitable funds as of late April 2022. Hercules and Timoshkina plan to continue developing the #CookForUkraine campaign and are currently working on a hospitality-focused workplace scheme for Ukrainian refugees, a cooking school staffed by Ukrainian cooks, and more.

Koh Seng Choon, Singapore and Hong Kong

For the first 50 years of his life, Koh Seng Choon was a successful businessman who studied abroad, founded his own management consultancy firm and enjoyed a busy life in the Lion City. But in 2010, he gave up everything he had built to pursue a “crazy idea” he’d had some time before: to open Asia’s first community food court managed by people with disabilities.

Seng Choon invested his life savings into the first Dignity Kitchen, which opened in Singapore in 2010, and was later followed by a second location in Hong Kong in 2019. The social entrepreneur is adamant that most of the world is looking at people with disabilities the wrong way – instead, by focusing on their abilities and creating an innovative programme to teach them to be successful hawker stall operators, he has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of people and their families. Dignity Kitchen was followed by other impactful initiatives as part of Seng Choon’s umbrella organisation, Project Dignity, such as Dignity Meal, a food security initiative for the needy, and Dignity Mama, a second-hand book shop managed by people with disabilities and their mothers.