Serge Ibaka holds a plastic cup half full of dried and roasted crickets. In fact, he shakes him, showing him, standing behind a kitchen island in lacquer, wearing a custom apron and a toque. He leans over to the camera, a few feet away from him, while he empties the insects into a small French press.
"Crickets, yes, you heard that," he said. Ibaka has eaten them since childhood in the Republic of Congo and remains a lawyer for them today. Often, he will notice their high protein content. "Cramp-uts"he repeats, his heavy accent spreading.
On this March night, Ibaka is preparing a meal for his new teammate, Jeremy Lin. "Special menu for Jeremy," he says with great deviousness. He knows that Lin hates tofu. Tonight's entry will therefore be a stinking and fermented variation of the soy-based product, which sizzles on a nearby stove and makes Ibaka scowl.
"Oh my God," he said. A sour smell runs through it and fills the entire room – a rented kitchen located near downtown Toronto. Half a dozen film crew members also have difficulties, but everyone persists, determined to grasp the link that can arise from a daring meal.
Since July, Ibaka has reunited several Raptors teammates at his table for an extraordinary variety of dishes: lamb's brains, cow's heart, pig's head, worms. His show, How hungry are you?, test guests' appetites and courage in the most unusual way. On a recent episode, Ibaka surprised Kyle Lowry, a native of Philadelphia, with a Philly Cheesesteak bull testicle. "You feed me so much in the field," Ibaka told his leader. "I have to feed you something good, my brother."
Throughout the season, the show has been an easy off-road chemistry builder, an asset of choice for a team under duress. At age 57-24, it may be the best composition of modern Raptors, but it is also the most unstable. About half of their players are new after a busy summer and a trade deadline; their coach, Nick Nurse, is a rookie; young players have forced themselves to play more important roles; veterans received the diminished.
Meanwhile, at the age of 29, Ibaka works hard and serves an exceptional season. He is present if the team needs 30 points or if it just needs 30 minutes of no-frills ball. He is entering a record career by scoring 15 points per game and shooting more than 50% of the ground, relying on one of the league's most reliable games mid-way through. Maybe it's not the same threat he used to be: he played an average of 3.7 blocks per game at age 22, but he protects him very well and looks promising.
So while Lin is looking for the stinky tofu – try it shyly at first then a little more comfortably, much to Ibaka's delight – he wonders if there is something mysterious that propels the big man.
"It could be the cooking show," Lin suggests.
No, not quite, says Ibaka.
"These are the crickets."
Ibaka's passion for cooking developed in his native Republic of Congo as a child. He first learned to cook by watching his father, who would prepare many of the same dishes that Serge now tries in his show. But the family did not always have a kitchen stuffed with ingredients, like Ibaka's today. Ibaka remembers that, as a child, he sometimes had to wait for the customers to finish in front of the restaurants to be able to eat the leftovers. "We come from different places, from different cultures, from different foods," said Ibaka, referring to his NBA guests. "Some foods, you can say," Oh wow, this is not food. "People eat that somewhere." I just want people to really understand this and I'm not sure about it. really appreciate. "
Ibaka's point of view is popular in Toronto, where alignment is particularly diverse. This season, the Raptors have represented England, Spain, Cameroon and Lithuania, to name a few countries, and Lin is the only American player of Asian descent. Ibaka likes to learn about the past of his teammates in a relaxed way. "I'm not very good at asking people questions during interviews," he says. "I'm just trying to entertain, to talk."
In the fall, Ibaka welcomed the young Raptors crowd: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright. Ibaka prepared lamb brains spread like butter. Powell and Siakam both recall that the food is "terrible," Siakam adding, "It only has two ingredients, salt and pepper – that's all – not enough seasoning."
Whatever the case may be, the episode has had greater utility. "I can say after this moment, I can really see the difference, connect us, guys can really see what kind of person I am," Ibaka said. "The way I invited them to my show at home created good chemistry."
His teammates felt the same way. "It's not fair to eat unpleasant food," says Siakam. "It's about eating unpleasant food, but also making connections and talking about important things, which is cool."
Powell has noticed how such extracurricular programs can help unite a team. "It's only team links," he says. "We always support each other on the pitch, and I think it helps us on the pitch when we're going through difficult times – not fragmentation, but staying strong together because you'll 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 played in the playoffs and then went out of limelight. In 2014, they lost a home game against Brooklyn in the first round. Over the next four years, they were eliminated three times by sweep, twice under the command of LeBron James.
Then comes the most difficult part: the July trade exchanges, which sent DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a choice in San Antonio to Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Whatever the weaknesses of the Raptors, one could not deny their unity, especially thanks to the privileged link between DeRozan and Lowry. This came out the window. And then, in February, other pieces flew, as Jonas Valanciunas, Miles CJ and Wright – renowned locker mates – were sent to Memphis for Marc Gasol, who often replaces Ibaka in the starter squad.
Some players in the position of Ibaka, a full-time player since 2011, could pout about such a demotion. Instead, Ibaka welcomed Gasol and his brother Pau into his kitchen like a cow's heart. The young Gasol has known Ibaka for years. they both played in Spain in adolescence. Still, he was impressed by how his old friend directed his show. "I've never seen this version of him," says Marc.
Ibaka presses on his alter ego during How hungry are you?: the Mafuzzy chef. The nickname is engraved on Ibaka's apron and a hashtagged on his posts in social media. What that means, Ibaka will not say. "A lot of people ask me questions about Mafuzzy," he says disdainfully. Ibaka has a kind of sense of timid humor; he is suave and a little skeptical. "It's personal, top secret." Mafuzzy, man, I'm Mafuzzy Man, original man, 100% pure, guy. " (The song "Mafuzzy Style", written by French-Congolese singer DADJU about Ibaka, has been erased from 56 million views but gives little clarity.)
Just watch an episode of How hungry are you? to appreciate Ibaka's commitment to the character. His effort is admirable. each episode takes about 10 minutes but requires a few hours of video. Ibaka prepares notes for each interview and looks at them during his conversations. He records the lines until his pronunciation is correct or until everyone in the room makes fun (he constantly monitors the room to detect the reactions). In each episode, there are charming scripted scenes. During the filming of Lin, for example, the film crew of Ibaka urged Ibaka to say that his salt and pepper – which were in fact American-made – were imported from Vietnam and Japan. Iceland to prove "what a mundane type" is Serge. Thus, Ibaka spent several minutes trying and still trying to nail the delivery, stumbling sometimes until the very last syllable "Ice … ah!" – before splitting and turning his head against the refrigerator with frustration.
It weighs seemingly small decisions, deliberating with those present in the room. Should he film a small piece in which he opens a window, freeing the kitchen from the terrible smell of tofu? Naw. It would look too much like a cheesy segment of the Food Network, he thinks and decides not to take it. "He's confident to direct the show," says Marc.
He has great plans for the future: new recipes and new guests. For example, he would like to welcome former Thunder teammates James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The last two have at least a slightly icy relationship, but Ibaka does not worry about that. "End of the day," he says, "when you do something, you have to do something to bring people together, you can not do anything to separate people."
The good nature of Ibaka was on display in one of the first episodes of the show, aired during the summer. Just after DeRozan was traded to San Antonio, Ibaka flew to meet DeRozan in California to serve him with worms and a discussion workshop. "Tell me, brother, how are you feeling, brother?" He asked early, which resulted in a discussion on the number of points that DeRozan would drop to Ibaka in their first match. "I'm going to block everything," said Ibaka. And then he went back to the business himself, probing DeRozan again. "Tell me a little, brother, what did you think of everything, because I've been there before?" DeRozan was treated after nine seasons in Toronto; The first seven of Ibaka were at OKC.
"It was hard when I heard the news, I will not lie to you, man," Ibaka told DeRozan in a poignant moment. "… your atmosphere, your way of leading the team, what you have been doing for the team over the last two years in Toronto, it's just amazing."
Nevertheless, like any good journalist or curious animator, Ibaka made sure to have both sides of the coin. Recently, he cooked for Leonard; The episode will air on Thursday during the season finale. Ibaka took the opportunity to address the long shadow of Leonard's impending free body, which covers the magnificent season of the year. 39, team, his title hopes and all that goes well beyond. Nobody knows what Leonard, who is known for his reserve, has in mind, and he has not demonstrated his willingness to talk about it.
Well, Chef Mafuzzy thought that he might as well try. After all, he has some power and some charm, standing in the Mafuzzy Merch setting. He feeds, he connects, he disarms.
"It's my friend, my teammate, so I just asked him," Ibaka said now. "Many writers have already asked this question, but the way I pose it is different.I turned to him:" My friend, will you come back next year or what? "