Dakar, Senegal | AFP | As a girl, Karelle Vignon-Vullierme loved eating the Beninese dishes her mother cooked but never bothered following her into the kitchen to learn how to make them herself.
But that has not stopped the Senegal-based blogger, now in her 30s, from building up an adoring online audience of thousands by whipping up mouth-watering meals from all corners of the globe.
Hers is a story of love, the internet and plenty of chocolate cake.
Based in Dakar since 2012, Vignon-Vullierme has a strong following in France and francophone Africa for her skill in perfecting everything from Indian naan bread to spicy Moroccan soup, with frequent indulgences for her sweet tooth.
“I love to eat,” says the French-Beninese former journalist, at her home in Dakar, prepping molten chocolate cakes in her kitchen at the nerve centre of “Les Gourmandises de Karelle” (Karelle’s Treats), an ever-expanding social media and blog operation that has become her full-time job.
Vibrant close-up photos of her culinary creations running the gamut of international tastes and occasions are accompanied by friendly, chatty comments about the recipes.
“I think I’ve already told you this but it’s only recently that I’ve learned to love and to eat courgettes,” she writes in a 2015 post for chicken and courgette cake on the website.
– ‘How did you do that?’ –
Sponsorships from supermarket chains and other regional brands also appear on her social media feeds, bookending sped-up videos of her recipes, and such partnerships have proved profitable, she says.
Perhaps surprisingly for a food blogger, who has almost 40,000 Facebook followers and 15,000 on Instagram, cooking rarely featured in her life until she met her future husband while studying in Canada.
Her mother “is a great cook,” she told AFP. “When she would tell me ‘Karelle, come to the kitchen and watch what I’m doing here!’, I would just say ‘tell me when it’s ready!'”
But after falling in love with Olivier Vullierme, a Franco-Senegalese engineer, and following him to Dakar, she began studying French-language cooking websites such as Marmiton, Cuisine AZ and 750g, hoping to impress.
What started out as a gesture of affection began to change her life, as she experimented with savoury dishes for him, and plenty of cakes for herself. “I learnt to cook online,” she says, spending time in particular on the Herve Cuisine YouTube channel.
Dishes cooked at home for her husband were carefully photographed and posted on Facebook, leading to enquiring emails from friends.
All were quick and simple but at times offered unusual combinations that are something of a trademark.
She set up the Gourmandises de Karelle blog in late 2013, she says, “firstly so that they would stop sending me messages saying ‘how did you do that?'”