Hell’s kitchen: Meet the French prison inmate who records cookery videos from his cell

The chocolate sauce bubbling in a bain-marie is a staple of cookery programmes, but this is food porn with a twist, as France's newest celebrity chef cooks up a storm in a corner of his prison cell.

Hell's kitchen: Meet the French prison inmate who records cookery videos from his cell
Illustration photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

Welcome to Dany Hellz Kitchen, the popular Instagram account of a French inmate, who conjures up mouthwatering tagines, tiramisus and pizzas with the few basic utensils he is allowed to keep behind bars.

“You can make everything with nothing,” is the motto of this foodie convict, who films himself in action with his phone but does not show his face on camera in order to remain anonymous, phones being banned in French prison cells.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by danyhellzkitchen (@danyhellzkitchen)

Dany (not his real name) has spent over seven years in jail for trafficking illegal substances (he would not say which).

“After a few years, prison food is so jaded, it always tastes the same, so I try to vary the dishes,” he told AFP in a telephone interview.

The centrepiece of his “hell’s kitchen” – a nod to British chef Gordon Ramsay’s TV series of the same name – is a hot plate that doubles up as an oven when turned upside down and propped up by four cans.

“In the past I had two hot plates meaning I could cook something evenly, sandwich-style, but they took it away from me so now I have to turn the stove around half-way through to distribute the heat,” he says.

The videos on his private Instagram account provide a rare glimpse into prison life, with the light filtering into his cell through the bars on the window and a small TV screen perched high on a wall.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by danyhellzkitchen (@danyhellzkitchen)

They also underscore the importance attached to food among people struggling with boredom and loneliness.

For Dany, a university graduate of north African origin, cooking is a form of therapy.

“I get up, I set up my equipment and it allows me to concentrate on something I enjoy and that other prisoners also enjoy,” he says.

His approach is two-fold: either he takes his prison food tray and reworks the steamed fish or vegetables with olive oil and garlic to add flavour or he creates his own dish from scratch using food and equipment sourced through the prison catalogue.

He also receives food parcels from family and friends.

One of his most recent gifts was a bottle of soy sauce but in the past visitors have also managed to smuggle in fresh goods, including, he says, a leg of lamb on one occasion.

With no sharp objects allowed in cells, he chops and peels with a knife with a rounded tip.

Prisoners are also not allowed to have yeast lest they use it to make alcohol, a pet peeve of Dany’s but which doesn’t stop him making bread.

Like all chefs, he has a secret ingredient he cannot live without – tomato paste, “which makes an excellent base for lots of different sauces.”

As his culinary fame grows, fellow prisoners have begun placing orders for favourite dishes, such as one man’s request for loubia, a Moroccan bean stew, which he served with peppers roasted directly on his hot plate.

Dany shares his creations with other inmates during walks in the prison yard as well as with the wider world in videos recorded in a mix of slang-infused French and English.

One video on Instagram, where he has nearly 30,000 followers, shows him making and icing a birthday cake.

“Dude you eating better than me and you’re in prison,” one incredulous follower commented on Instagram.

“Chef, I’ve tasted your cooking, it’s incredible”, another follower, with the alias 24-El-Padrino, praises.

Dany is hoping to use his newfound fame to launch his own cannabis cooking oil after his release, expected later this year.

And he has already planned the menu for his prison parting feast – there will be couscous – and is salivating at the prospect of his first meal as a newly-free man.

“It’ll be a wood-fired pizza, I think.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Paris police dismantle crack users’ camp

Paris police have dismantled a camp that is home to over 100 crack users, the latest move in a campaign that has repeatedly displaced the addicts around the capital.

Paris police dismantle crack users' camp

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter as the evacuation got under way that, this time, “1,000 officers will be deployed to prevent the camp from reforming somewhere else”.

An AFP journalist saw large numbers of police surround the rubbish-strewn camp from 7:00 am (0500 GMT) in Square Forceval in northeast Paris, with police chief Laurent Nunez on the scene.

Over the past two years, successive evacuations have moved crack users from the Stalingrad square on the city’s Saint-Martin canal, first to a nearby park, and then to their current site alongside the French capital’s ring road.

READ ALSO How Paris plans to tackle its crack-cocaine problem – by moving addicts elsewhere

Tackling the city’s crack problem — visible on the streets for the past three decades — has proved difficult due to the addictiveness of the drug, a cocaine derivative that sells for as little as 10 euros ($9.90) per dose.

Darmanin, a law-and-order hardliner, has given newly-installed Paris police chief Nunez a single year to wipe out crack in the capital.

The interior ministry said that inhabitants of the camp wanted by police would be arrested, while foreigners without papers would be detained awaiting deportation.

“Other occupants will be directed towards accommodation structures with medical and social assistance, or to medical facilities,” the ministry added.

Aid groups say that between 300 and 400 people spend time in the camp during the day and around 150 at night, with up to 40 percent of them women.

Dealers sold crack “rocks” openly among the groups of users.

As at other sites where the addicts have gathered, local residents have complained of assaults, thefts and other disruption since their arrival.

Around 500 people demonstrated last month to mark the camp being in place for a year and demand its removal.