Serge Ibaka holds a plastic cup half full of dry and toasted crickets. He is shaking him, actually, showing him, standing behind a kitchen island of lacquer, wearing a personalized apron and a chef hat. He leans towards the camera, a few meters away, while emptying the insects in a small French press.
"Crickets, yes, you heard that," he says. Ibaka has been eating them since his childhood in the Republic of the Congo and is still an advocate for them today. Often, you will notice its high protein content. "Stiff neck-uts, "he repeats, his strong accent is filtered.
On this March night, Ibaka is preparing a meal for his new teammate, Jeremy Lin. "Special menu for Jeremy," he says with great cunning. He knows that Lin detests tofu, so tonight's entrance will be a smelly and fermented variation on the soy product, which when sizzling on a nearby stove, makes Ibaka grimace.
"Oh, my God," he says. The sour smell pbades by and fills the entire room: a kitchen rented near downtown Toronto. A half dozen members of the film crew are also struggling, but all persist, determined to capture the bond that can make a daring meal.
Since July, Ibaka has brought several of the Raptors' companions to his table for an extraordinary variety of dishes: lamb brains, cow's heart, pig's head, worms. Your show, How hungry are you?, it tests the appetites and the courage of the guests in a very unusual way. In a recent episode, Ibaka surprised Kyle Lowry, a Philadelphia native, with a bull testicle in Philadelphia. "You feed me so much on the court," Ibaka told his point guard. "I have to feed you something good, brother."
Throughout the season, the program has been a chemistry generator off the court, a good badet for a team under pressure. At 57-24, this is perhaps the best roster of modern Raptors, but it is also the most unstable. Approximately half of its players are new after a busy summer and an exchange deadline; his coach, Nick Nurse, is a rookie; Young players have forced their way into bigger roles; Veterans have received diminished.
Meanwhile, at 29, Ibaka works hard and has a special season. He is there if the team needs 30 points or if he only needs 30 minutes of simple dancing. He is nearing a career high in scoring 15 points per game and shooting more than 50 percent from the floor, relying on one of the league's most reliable mid-range games. It may not be the same threat that once was close to the limit (it averaged 3.7 blocks per game at age 22), but it protects it very well and looks very elegant when it does.
So, while Lin searches for the stinky tofu, testing it timidly at first and then a little more comfortable, to Ibaka's delight, she wonders if there is something mysterious that drives the great man.
"It could be the cooking show," Lin suggests.
No, not at all, says Ibaka.
"It's the crickets."
Ibaka's pbadion for cooking Developed in his native Republic of the Congo, since childhood. First he learned to cook watching his father, who would prepare many of the same dishes that Serge now tests in his program. But the family did not always have a kitchen equipped with ingredients, as Ibaka has today. Ibaka remembers that, as a child, sometimes he had to wait outside the restaurants for customers to finish, to be able to eat the leftovers. "We come from different places, different cultures, different foods," says Ibaka, referring to his NBA guests. "Some foods can be said," Oh wow, this is not food. "People really eat that somewhere, I just want people to really understand that and really appreciate it."
Shortly after guard Jeremy Lin arrived in Toronto, Serge Ibaka welcomed the show.Mariam konate
Ibaka's perspective is appreciated in Toronto, where the list is especially diverse. This season, the Raptors have represented England, Spain, Cameroon and Lithuania, to name a few countries, and Lin is the only Asian-American player in the league. Ibaka likes to ask about the background of her teammates in an informal way. "I'm not very good at asking people questions in interviews," he says. "I just try to have fun, to talk."
In the fall, Ibaka hosted the crowd of Raptors youths: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright. Ibaka prepared brains of lamb, to spread on toast like butter. Powell and Siakam remember that the food was "terrible", and Siakam added that "he only got two ingredients, salt and pepper, that's all, it's not enough seasoning."
Regardless, the episode had a bigger purpose. "After that moment I can say that I can really see the difference, just connect us, the guys can really see what kind of person I am," says Ibaka. "The way I invited them to my show in my house created a good chemistry."
His teammates felt the same. "It's not just eating unpleasant food," says Siakam. "It's about eating unpleasant food, but also about bonding and talking about important things, which is great."
Powell has noticed how such extracurricular activities can help unite a team. "It's just the team's union," he says. "We always support each other from the floor, and I think that helps us on the field when we are going through difficult things, we do not fragment, we stay strong together because you will always support your teammates."
And this team has not lacked reasons to fragment. In the last five years, during what could be considered the Lowry era, Toronto has always reached the playoffs and then left without glory. In 2014, they threw a Game 7 at home to Brooklyn in the first round. For the next four years, they were eliminated by sweeping three times, twice at the hands of LeBron James.
Then came the really difficult part: the July trade, which sent DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a draft pick to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Despite the deficiencies of the Raptors, one could not deny their unit, led by the special connection between DeRozan and Lowry. That went out the window. And then, in February, more pieces flew away, as Jonas Valanciunas, CJ Miles and Wright, known costume mates, were sent to Memphis by Marc Gasol, who replaced Ibaka in the starting lineup on many nights.
Some players in the position of Ibaka, a prominent full-time starter since 2011, may be concerned about such degradation. Instead, Ibaka welcomed Gasol and his brother Pau into their kitchen for the heart of a small cow. The young Gasol knows Ibaka for years; The two played in Spain as teenagers. However, he was impressed by the way his old friend directed his program. "I never saw that version of him," says Marc.
Throughout the season, Ibaka's cooking program has been a chemistry generator off the court for the Raptors.Moustapha Youssouf
Ibaka leans on her alter ego during How hungry are you?: the mafuzzy chef. The nickname is stamped on Ibaka's apron and tagged on his social media posts. Which means, Ibaka will not say it. "A lot of people ask me about Mafuzzy," he says with disdain. Ibaka has a kind of shy sense of humor; He is soft and a little skeptical. "It's personal, top secret, Mafuzzy, man, I'm Mafuzzy Man, the original man, 100% pure, man." (The song "Mafuzzy Style", written by the Congolese French singer DADJU on Ibaka, has clarified 56 million visits, but offers little clarity).
You just have to watch an episode of How hungry are you? To appreciate Ibaka's commitment to the character. Your effort is admirable; Each episode lasts approximately 10 minutes, but requires some hours to record. Ibaka prepares notes for each interview and looks askance at them during their conversations. He redraws lines until his pronunciation is good or until everyone in the room is laughing (he constantly explores the room for reactions). In each episode, there are lovely scripted scenes. During the filming of Lin, for example, Ibaka's film crew urged Ibaka to say that her salt and pepper, which were actually made in the United States, were imported from Vietnam and Iceland to demonstrate "what a mundane guy is "Serge. And so, Ibaka spent several minutes trying to try again, sometimes stumbling over the last syllable: "Ice … ah!", Before breaking his head and turning his head against the fridge in frustration.
It weighs apparently small decisions, deliberating with those in the room. Should I shoot a little fast when I open a window, freeing the kitchen from the horrible smell of tofu? No That would look a lot like a segment of the corny Food Network, he thinks, and decides not to. "He's confident in directing the show," says Marc.
He has big plans to move forward: new recipes and new guests. For example, he would like to receive his old teammates from the Thunder, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The last two have, at least, a somewhat cold relationship, but Ibaka is not worried about that. "At the end of the day," he says, "when you do something, you have to do something where people get together. You can not do something where people are separated."
The good nature of Ibaka was on display in one of the first episodes of the program, which aired during the summer. Right after DeRozan was moved to San Antonio, Ibaka flew to meet DeRozan in California to serve the worms and talk about the store. "Tell me, brother, how do you feel, brother?" He asked from the beginning, what displeased him in a discussion about how many points DeRozan would leave in Ibaka in their first match. "I'm going to block everything," Ibaka replied. And then he went back to the trade itself, probing DeRozan again. "Tell me a little, brother, how did you feel about everything? Because I've been there before." DeRozan was treated after nine seasons in Toronto; The first seven of Ibaka were in OKC.
"It was hard when I heard the news, I'm not going to lie to you, brother," Ibaka tells DeRozan in a moving moment. "… Your environment, the way you lead the team, what you did for the team in the last two years I was in Toronto, it was incredible."
Still, like any good journalist or curious host, Ibaka made sure to get both sides of the story. Recently, he cooked for Leonard; The episode airs on Thursday as the end of the second season. Ibaka took the opportunity to address the long shadow of Leonard's impending free agency, which covers the team's magnificent season, title hopes and everything in between. Nobody knows what Leonard has in mind, who is famous as reserved, and has not shown willingness to talk about it.
Well, Mafuzzy's chef thought he could try too. There is a certain power and charm that exerts, after all, standing there dressed in Mafuzzy merchandise. It feeds, connects, disarms.
"He's my friend, my teammate, so I just asked him," says Ibaka now. "Many writers have already asked that question, but it's different from the way I do it." I just addressed him: "My friend, will you come back next year or what? "