Selassie Atadika: The Science of New African Cuisine; Science & Cooking 2019


Great. Good. So I’m Pia Sorensen. Welcome to the Harvard Science
Cooking public lecture series. Great to see so many
familiar faces at the end of the semester like this. Awesome. So very, very soon,
not yet, I’m going to introduce our visiting
speaker for today, Selassie Atadika, but not yet. So first I have one
important announcement. And it’s not what
you thought it was. You thought I was going to
pull out the aprons, but no. So here’s the thing. If you were a student in
this class, which you’re not, granted, because you’re
here on a Monday night. I think for it to be November,
you’re also smiling too much to be a student. But if you were a
student in this class, we would at this point
start to work on projects, and you would be tasked
with this task, which would be to try and
study and understand in some scientific terms
some aspect of a recipe or some culinary invention. Or you would try to find a
solution to a culinary problem and explain why it
works or how it works. And the good news is that
you too can do a project. So last year we tried this
on a very small scale. Is anyone in the audience who
submitted a project last year? Oh cool. Two. Anyone else? No? OK. So we did not have a lot
of submissions last year. And so what I’m hoping
is that you’re all going to feel the urge to
dig in and find a project. And when you do, you submit
your deadline, your assignment deadline, before
you get a grade. Just kidding. Is you submit it to this email
address by December 13th, and you can win prizes. You won prizes last year, right? So now I’m sure
you’re all thinking, what can I do for projects
if I want to win a prize? And it turns out there are
really questions everywhere. So one of the things I usually
recommend students to do is just go and open any
cookbook, look at the recipe, and start asking why. Why do you do this? Why do you do that? Why do you do this
before you do that? Why do you whisk for this
long and not for that long? Why do you blah,
blah, blah, on and on. There are lots of
questions in cookbooks. That’s number one. Number two, how could you just– pick any food that
you eat every day. How could you improve it? How could you learn? How could you use
the principles you have learned in
this lecture series and apply it to your
food and make it better? The real challenge is to make
the dining hall food better, but you don’t have
to deal with that. Three, you can think of
any recipe over time. So a couple years
ago, we had a student who looked at recipes for
clam chowder over time and compared how the
viscosity has changed. So you could imagine doing
this with all kinds of recipes. And it turns out clam chowder
has gotten thicker and thicker. It’s quite thick now. And then the last one, and I
think one of my favorite ones, and there’s going to be tons
of examples in today’s lecture, is just think about
any of the things that the chefs have
done in this series, and think of how you can work
more on the kinds of things they’ve done. How could you make tunta,
freeze dried potatoes, here at sea level? How could you use
the fermentations that Zilber and White we’re
doing at the Noma Fermentation Lab? How could you do
any of these things? And just create your thing,
the new thing, a new food that has yet to see the Earth. That’s the final challenge. And then email us
and maybe win prizes. OK, anyone interested? Maybe? OK. Good, good. So I just want to say a few
words to kind of put this week in context for Selassie. So last week, who was here? Awesome, great. Welcome back. Who is here for the first time? Wonderful. Welcome. So last week, we talked about
the concept of viscosity. And Chef Carles Tejedor and
Pere Planaguma were here. And they did various things. And for those of
you who are new, we play this game
every week where if you were here last
week, I’m now going to ask you three questions. And if you were here
and you know the answer, then you raise your hand. And if you have it right, when I
point to you, you win an apron. And we’re very proud
with these aprons, because they look like this. And they have all the
important equations on them that you never want
to be without when you cook in your kitchen. OK, are you ready? So first question. A little warm up question. What is viscosity? How would you
describe viscosity? Yes. [INAUDIBLE] How thick a liquid is. Yes. How else would you say it? [INAUDIBLE] Yeah, yeah, good. The resistance to
flow of a liquid. Perfect, excellent. [APPLAUSE] There you go. Next question. So Pere Planaguma thickened
a garum, his fish sauce. And the question is,
how did he thicken it? Yes? Some polymer thickeners. Some polymer thickener. He called it xanthan. He called it xanthan. Yeah. Do you guys agree? Is that a polymer thickener? Yeah, xanthan gum. Good job. [APPLAUSE] OK, moving into details. So after this, Carles Tejedor
used four different ingredients in four different experiments. And he changed the
texture of olive oil in all these amazing
ways that people– usually it’s very hard to
change the texture of olive oil, but he was able to do this. So the question is, name
four of them that he used. Yeah, there’s a person up there. OK. [INAUDIBLE] Glucose, water, and temperature. That’s true, but I’m
looking for specific things that he added that was the
reason for the texture. [INAUDIBLE] And then he used
different types. Any ideas for what those
different types were? Yes. He added maltodextrin. Maltodextrin. He added agar agar. Maybe agar agar. Wrong. [LAUGHTER] You’re just throwing them
out there, thickeners. He also used xanthan gum. Xanthan gum. Did he? Yeah, OK. What else? Glycerin, good. [INAUDIBLE] OK, we need one more. We’re going to have to cut up
this apron into four pieces. Soy lecithin. Correct. Good. How are we going to do this? Say a number between
one and four. Two. So one, two. That would actually be you. I already have one. You have one? Who does not– do
you have an apron? Do you have an apron? I never brought one. You don’t have one? Do you? OK. You should have one. [APPLAUSE] I think given how many times
you’ve come to the series, you deserve an apron. Yeah. OK, good job. And here they all are. iota carrageenan, lecithin,
glycerin, albumin, inulin, maltodextrin, isomalt.
Sound familiar? You could just have kept
going, throwing out thickeners, and you would have
hit them eventually. OK. OK, so just a few words. So last week, viscosity. And we talked about how
viscosity is the resistance to flow. And I showed you
this little cartoon, which shows you how the
molecules or the particles in a sauce or any liquid
flow over each other. And the more easily they flow
over each other, the more– the sort of less
viscous is the sauce. So if they’re stuck, you
have a more thick sauce. And then we talked
about how when we cook, there are basically two
ways that we can manipulate and change the viscosity. And the first one is the one
up here with the bubbles. So any way that you can
increase the amount of stuff you have in the liquid. Any way you can increase it. And we talked about
it in the context of how much volume fraction,
there was some stuff, and I showed you an
equation which I’m not going to show you today. And then the second
way was we could add all kinds of polymers. So the polymers you mentioned,
you mentioned, you mentioned, they could all kind of
keep these things in place and make sure and sort of
trap them and make sure they don’t flow over each other. So you’ve got a thicker sauce. And when we cook, we basically
do this in various ways. So one way is we
reduce things, which is when you make a wine sauce,
you just put it, heat it, the liquid evaporates, you
get more and more stuff left behind. So it’s harder and harder for
it to flow over each other. Or you add starch. You’re just adding
stuff into your sauce. Makes it harder to
flow over each other. You add all kinds of polymers. Xanthan gum, sorry, xanthan
gum, agar-agar, carrageenan, all kinds of things
that trap it. So a milkshake, any
kind of salad dressing. Xanthan gum in there
would stop it from moving. And then the one we did not talk
about so much is the emulsions. And so here’s a
picture of emulsions. And here I’ll ask you what
you think this might be. What might this be? Mayonnaise. Yes, correct, it’s mayonnaise. We’re out of aprons, sorry. Is mayonnaise. And you can see this is
mayonnaise under a microscope. And you can see all
of these bubbles. There are lots of bubbles. Basically oil droplets that
are trapped in the water, in the egg and the liquid,
and they cannot move over each other. There’s so many of them. So if you go back
to this picture, you’ve increased this so much
that your mayonnaise is super thick, and maybe you could even
sort of turn it upside down and it wouldn’t move. That’s what you’ve done. And it’s correct. So this is quite
amazing, because here you take two liquid things, and
all you do is you mix them or you whisk them or you do
something with them to create these bubbles, and
then you basically get something that is a solid. And it’s not solid like
this, but it’s solid so that it doesn’t
move over each other. And that’s because there’s
so much stuff in there that you’re preventing
it from flowing. So that’s a great way
to thicken sauces. It can be a little
fattening, but it’s a great way to thicken sauces. There is a problem,
though, with this, which is that emulsions fail. So if you’ve ever tried
to make a mayonnaise, you may have ended up with this. Doesn’t look so good. It separates. If you’ve ever
made a vinaigrette, you know that you make it, you
shake it, and you let it sit, and over time it just separates. Huge problem with emulsions. They do separate. All the other things are fine,
the reductions, the starch, they just sit there
for the most part. Emulsions are super
fragile little creatures. So there are a number
of things we can do. We can add polymers. All kinds of polymers. And this kind of traps the
bubbles, the oil bubbles, so they can’t move so
much over each other, can sort of bump into each
other and sort of fall apart. Or what else can we do? Any ideas? Yes? [INAUDIBLE] You can add a surfactant. Right. And what is a surfactant? Well, surfactant is
any molecule that has one part that likes water
and one part that likes oil. So when you add these to the
emulsion, to the mayonnaise, they naturally sit
on the interface between the oil and the water. So they sit like this. And then when these
bubbles are moving around, this will happen. They’re just moving
around, but they’re not crashing and falling apart,
because they kind of have this shield of
surfactant around them. And this is what that
would also look like. Doink. That’s the idea of surfactants. So the purpose of all
this was basically to remind you of
viscosity, remind you of how we thicken things,
and to bring a little bit more background on emulsions. So now you have sort of a
complete view of viscosity of thickeners of emulsions. And I think that some of this
will be useful for the lecture. So this is the point
in the semester where not only are the
concepts from today that I just talked
about, the emulsions, they will be part of this. But it’s also the
point in the semester when if you’ve
been coming a lot, you will notice how a lot of
the science concepts we’ve talked about are showing up. Fermentation is
going to be in there. You could even sit there and
sort of do a little checklist, and you’ll see that so much of
the science that we’ve talked about is in this lecture. So with this, I’m going
to introduce our speaker. So Chef Selassie Atadika
is the owner and founder of Midunu in Ghana. And we’ve been
talking for a big part of the day about how
she is using and looking into and learning about
traditional African cooking and how you can bring
that into restaurants and into haute cuisine and
how you can learn from it and use it for ways to kind
of further modern day cooking. So this is a huge pleasure. Please join me in
welcoming Selassie. [APPLAUSE] Good evening, everybody. I’m going to actually
start off by asking you to close your eyes. So if everyone could
just close their eyes. And I would like for you
to think about a dish that makes you feel at home, a
dish that takes you back to a wonderful space, maybe a
childhood dish, something that makes you feel comfortable. Maybe at this point,
you’re salivating if you’re thinking about it really hard. And imagine if this
dish no longer existed. And imagine if no one cared. So please open your eyes. I’m just going to
maybe ask you guys what dishes you were thinking about. Anyone want to share? Cinnamon rolls. Nice and buttery. Icing or no icing? Icing. Anybody else? Yes? Potato pancakes. Potato pancakes. Applesauce? Yes. OK. Yes. Matza ball soup. Nice. Anything else? Yes. Moimoi. Moimoi. I’ll come back to
that in a second. I know what it is, and
I’m going to ask you guys if you know what it is. Yes? Chicken cordon bleu. OK. Anything else? Yes? Corn pudding. Corn pudding. So these are all dishes that
I think maybe possibly a loved one made for you at
one point and it’s a comfort food for you. I basically grew up
mostly in New York, in Westchester County. I was born in Ghana. My family left due to
political instability and moved to the US. And I grew up eating food
from my mother’s kitchen, food that I had fallen in love with. My parents are here. And I’m happy to say that– [APPLAUSE] When we were growing up, I
think we ate out twice a year. Your birthday and
Mother’s Day, isn’t it? So the rest of the time
we basically ate at home and ate food from Ghana
so that we could– I mean, it was just
one of the main touch points in terms of maintaining
our culture that we had. You mentioned moimoi. Does anybody else
know what moimoi is? Yes. What is it? [INAUDIBLE] Yes. So it’s beans, usually cow
peas or black eyed beans, that have been peeled,
soaked and peeled, blended, and then a few other things
added to it, and it’s steamed. And it’s just a really
wonderful, satisfying dish. So I started thinking about
the food that I came to love. But after growing up, I
actually went to Dartmouth, came back home, and then told
my dad that I wanted to become– actually I wanted to
go to culinary school. So I don’t know how
many other people here are first generation
immigrants in the US. Telling your parents that
you want to become a chef was not very popular. And I’m actually
the first child. So there is this Nigerian
comedian who says, I think for first
generation, you have four options growing up. It’s lawyer, doctor, engineer,
disgrace to the family. Those are the four
options that you have. So when I told my
parents I wanted to go to culinary school, my
dad actually specifically first was like, what’s going
to happen to the family? And then what will your
brother and sister do? And then it was like, you
can go when you finish paying back your school loans. So that was a
conversation we had. So I went ahead,
worked for the UN. I had a wonderful
time and career. I actually did a lot of work
on humanitarian response to disasters, both man
made and natural disasters. But at a certain
point, I just, I really realized that food was
what brought people together, and I’d come to fall
in love with it, and I wanted to share
this with other people. So I started thinking
about what makes up the foodways in the
African continent. And I worked for UNICEF mostly,
in all parts of the continent, and have probably been
to more countries. It’s easier for me to count
the countries in the continent that I’ve not been to. So I started looking
at the foodways and trying to pull it together. The definition for foodways
looks at the history, culture, social, economic impact of
production and consumption of food. So when I was moving
around, I started noticing– my first degree was
actually in geography. So I started off thinking
about what grows where. So when you look
at the continent, there are different
biomes, and that allows us to understand
what grows where it is and what we should probably
be eating if we live there. You’ll see the variation. So for example, the
highlands of Ethiopia, they have a lot of
cattle, and they have a lot of milk and butter. And the butter they use
is a clarified butter similar to that you would
see in ghee in India. It’s clarified. There’s no water
solids in there. So there’s no solids. There’s water removed from
it, so it’s mostly solid, and it doesn’t get rancid,
because the butter fat has actually been removed from it. But if you look at
West Africa, there’s actually not a lot of
cattle because of a disease that attacks them, and they
don’t survive very much. But you will also notice
that a lot of people are lactose intolerant. So I started looking at it,
trying to understand it. Naturally as human beings,
we are lactose intolerant. So most people that live in
the middle part of the planet are lactose intolerant. But as you move
further north, you’ll notice that actually people
are able to tolerate and have genetically adapted to dairy. And as I started
doing the reading, I noticed that actually vitamin
D is what we need from dairy. But when you live
on the equator, vitamin D is not necessary. But when you look at communities
such as the nomadic populations who move with their cattle,
they’re drinking milk. They’re eating the byproducts. So their bodies have
actually adapted to be able to withstand that. Then you look at cultural
practices and traditions, taboos. So in Ghana, Tuesday
is a taboo day. You will never see a
fisherman on Tuesday fishing. And even now today in 2019, if
a fisherman does go out to fish, he will have to have a
very serious conversation with the chief,
because that’s actually a traditional mechanism for
preservation and sustainability of our waterways. Preferences. I mentioned the issue around
the nomadic populations. But something we’ll come back to
at the end of the conversation is we eat a lot with our hands. We eat a lot with, in particular
in West Africa, starches, whether it would
be foofoo, kenkey, lots of other types of starches. But because we’re eating
these starches with our hands, we need a certain
level of viscosity to hold onto this starch. So for example, if you’re
thinking about Italian cuisine, there’s a certain type of
noodle for every type of sauce. There are certain
lines on the pasta that’s supposed to hold onto
a certain amount of sauce. It’s a very similar
concept when you look at the starches
and the sauces that we use in West Africa. Ceremonial rights. So for example,
in Ghana, there’s a dish called
[INAUDIBLE] and it’s only eaten after Homowo, which
is a festival that’s celebrating the end of a
historic sort of lean season. Religious elements. Ethiopia, because of
the orthodox Catholics, they have x number of
feast days every year, and those feast days
are actually days that people are not– well, people have
to eat vegetarian. So there’s an amazing
vegetarian cuisine that has evolved, very
beautiful, tasty vegetarian cuisine similar to
what you would find in India that’s evolved because
of the religious elements of society. Preservation techniques. We live in, quote unquote,
“the danger zone.” So if you’re in the
kitchen, you know that this is a temperature
where bacteria just grows, and things will spoil. And that’s actually
where we live. So we’ve adapted all kinds
of cooking techniques, preservation techniques, to make
sure we don’t lose our food. So salting is one
of the major ones. So you’ll see salted
fish, salted meats. It’s a way of removing the
water content to allow something to last longer. Steaming is a very
quick and easy one for things that are fresh. I had one of my aunts, who is in
her late 80’s, we were talking, and she was telling me that
she was living by the coast. And when she would
get off work, she was a nurse, when she
would get off work, she would go to the
waterfront and help fishermen bring in the catch. So she said, from time to
time, a fisherman would come by the house, and she would
literally hide in the house. And so I was like,
why would you hide? She said, well, they were
coming with a big bowl of fish, and I didn’t have a fridge. So I said, well,
what would you do? And she said, well, the first
one I would steam and prepare in this way. Then I would fry
hard another batch so that the water would
be out so I could keep it for a couple of days. And whatever she
couldn’t handle at home, she would take for someone
to smoke or to salt so that she could
use it much longer. And that really helped
me to understand the different techniques. Smoking we do a lot of
as well, and that’s also a method of actually
removing the water, but it’s also imparting
a lot of flavor. And fermentation, particularly
in West Africa and Ghana, we do a lot of fermentation,
both for beverages and for starches. But what we do is our
fermentation techniques are about three days. I don’t know why, but
typically it’s three days. I think the weather
is warm enough, and we’re able to get what
we need from the fermentation that we don’t need the
seven days or longer. And then sustainability. When you look at, for
example, nomadic populations, they are on the
move, but they also understand that their
cattle is their wealth. So it’s actually
slaughtering a cow would be for a special occasion. So you would see
that they actually don’t eat a lot of meat, because
that would actually be drawing down on their wealth status. I don’t know if you guys have
any examples from other food cultures. I think at the base of
it, a lot of food cultures are very similar
how we start out. So we do have a lot
in common in that way. We all preserve. I think when you look at,
for example, in the Nordics, there’s a lot of pickling. There’s a lot of
pickling, but we actually don’t have a long winter. So we don’t need
to hold anything for six months or longer. And we also don’t
have the climate that allows it to stay cold. We don’t have cellars. We don’t have a cool
place to keep things. So when you start
looking at geography and all these other
elements, things make sense. So in terms of
food and foodways, it’s not just culture
that it touches. It touches so many
other parts of life. So when we look at economics,
I talked about the cattle being a level of wealth
and a means of trade. But we can also look at
the modern ways of trade. So now Ghana, for example, we
are trading in cocoa beans, let’s say. So we’re growing a crop,
selling it to get money to now buy other things. So sometimes it actually is
working to your advantage, and sometimes it’s not. In Ghana right now, if you
look in the grocery store, 16% to 18% of what’s
in a grocery store is actually local,
which actually means that in terms
of the economy, we’re not actually supporting
a lot of producers. Environment. Slash and burn agriculture
or slash and burn, which is still used
by a lot of nomadics, is actually not
necessarily a bad thing. But when you put it into the
context of high populations and agrarian versus
pastoral communities, then you start getting
conflict, because space and land issues are different now
than they used to be. Health and nutrition. People are changing
the way they eat. People need food of convenience. And what does that look like? Arts and culture. In many ways, what I do is
not fully understood in Ghana. When I first moved back, I
was giving a talk somewhere, and someone said to
me, we were in a room, and one person
asked me and said, what’s the difference
between a chef and a cook? Because in Ghana, a lot of
people in the food industry are chefs are actually
either cooks or caterers. And so people were like, what
is this chef thing that you’re talking about? And before I could answer,
someone in the back of the room said, a chef’s
the one that cooks for people who aren’t hungry. [LAUGHTER] And it’s kind of true. I mean, when I think
about what I do, I actually became
a chef because I felt that there were other
perspectives and angles and things that I could
do using food as a medium. So I kind of, in
many ways, think about I’m not looking
to feed people today but more about what does
the future look like? How are we going to be able to
feed ourselves in 2025 or 2050? And what do we need to do
now and what kind of foods do we need to eat now in
order for us to reach there? So biodiversity. Again, agriculture,
interestingly, was a moment when
people actually were able to produce food
and store food in order to live in community. And now we’ve gotten to a place
where the agriculture is now mono crop or something
similar and is actually reducing the fertility and
reducing our capacity to eat, because we’ve reduced
our biodiversity. The politics and the
policies, again, are there. I’ll get a little bit
more into that later. But as I started thinking
about all of these things, I realized that I wanted to get
more and more involved in food. So I kind of had
my big aha moment about how many years ago now? Probably about seven
or eight years ago. I was doing work for the UN. I was based in the Sahelian
region of West Africa. And I was in a
location in Nigeria and looking at malnutrition. And one of the
therapeutic food that is used to treat malnutrition
is something called Plumpy’Nut. Plumpy’Nut is a
fortified peanut butter that has so much nutrition
in there and micro-nutrients in there that it’s
actually a medicine. And it’s literally
peanut butter that’s been extremely fortified, and it
actually is coming from France. So imagine we’re trying to
treat malnutrition in the Sahel in a place where peanuts
grow, but we’re purchasing the products from France. It’s coming through the
port in Lagos, which has a lot of
challenges, and there is a long delay for it to
reach the northern part of the country. And I said to myself,
why are we doing this, and why are we not
finding solutions locally? Because these
ingredients are here. What is the issue
that’s keeping us from accessing the nutrition
that’s in front of us? And that was,
again, really for me a really big moment in terms
of what else can we do? What else can I be doing
to support solutions? So I left the UN. I went to culinary school. And I moved back to
Ghana and started seeing and understanding
some of the different things that we had talked about
in terms of culture, traditional practices,
sustainability, and preservation
techniques at play. But there were
other things that I saw that I wasn’t
really expecting to see and I wasn’t quite sure about. So climate change. There was more erratic rainfall,
and farmers were actually starting to lose their
yields because of this. There are other
environmental factors that were coming to play. In Ghana, there’s a lot
of gold, and there’s also a lot of illegal gold mining. And the illegal gold mining
that’s been happening throws in a lot of
toxins into the soil and actually leaves
the soil contaminated and has lots of
runoff that kills the things in the waterways
but also keeps you from being able to plant in
the soil for many decades until those chemicals
have been leached out. I was seeing lifestyle
changes in the urban area. So people were actually
eating on the move and they were not
eating at home. There’s a lot of
fast food joints. Not just the KFCs and the
Burger Kings that you would see but also local fast food chains,
because people just need food quickly and not at home. I also noticed that there was
no transition of information, ingredients, recipes,
techniques, from mother to child, grandmother to– it was not happening in the
same way that you would expect. So if you went to Accra or
any other sort of urban area in Africa, you would probably
be more likely to see something like this. And it’s not maybe
what you expect, but unfortunately,
globalization is happening, and people need solutions. But the challenge
with things like this is that the chicken is
actually coming from not Ghana. So for example, the government
tried changing the policies around the chicken to say that
it had to be local chicken, but the production
was not catching up to the needs of the demand. So what you would
see is actually local chicken is twice as
expensive as imported chicken. Imported chicken, I was having
a conversation with a friend of mine, the imported– she’s very much involved
in the poultry industry. And I said to her, oh, we get
a lot of chicken legs in Ghana, and I’m not sure. I think it comes from Brazil. And the interesting
fact was actually because the US market eats
mostly chicken breast, the chicken legs have to
go somewhere else, which is usually Brazil, and then
that ends up coming to Ghana. So there is a long way home. But there’s also
things like the EU after five years, anything
that’s in freezers needs to be sent out somewhere. And that somewhere is
Africa, in many cases. So in addition to
this, 16% to 18% of local products
in grocery stores, you’ll actually find
out that the importation bill in the whole African
continent for the year 2025 will go from $35
billion to $110 billion. And I think that number
is actually quite low. It’s probably higher than that. The challenging thing
is that $110 billion is equal to what we need in
order to fix our electricity gap in the continent. So I really feel that
we’re on the verge, on the tipping point,
of having to fix things before they kind of go too
far in the other direction. So I’ve been spending time
thinking about how do we solve this problem? What can be done? How can we change the tide? And I’ve come up with sort
of three simple steps. They sound simple. But the first one
is to document, to document the
practices, to understand what’s been happening for time
in memoria what’s going on in the villages,
agricultural practices that have been successful. For example, in Ghana, there’s
something called [? pokhara. ?] [? Pokhara ?] is actually
a traditional agricultural practice and it literally means
leave it in the ground to rot and come back, which sounds
like organic, doesn’t it? So there’s a lot of
traditional practices that make sense for today. The second part is
actually to educate people or re-educate
people about what locally sourced ingredients
look like, taste like, recipes that we can make. There are areas where
people are switching to sort of processed foods. And when you’ve asked
people to go back to what grows in
their back yard, nutritional status
of children goes straight through the roof and
improves very, very quickly. And the last part is to share
with the rest of the world. I think we need to
create economies. So it’s one thing,
I think it’s really important for communities to
learn to eat what’s from there. There’s a little bit of a
stigma right now in many ways saying if this is
local, then it’s what, quote unquote, that’s
kind of a chip on our shoulder. It’s kind of like what
the poor people eat. And if you have money, you
buy what’s from outside. So we kind of need
to shed that stigma, and not only for
ourselves, but also to then understand
how much we can share with the rest of the world
to make sure that there’s still enough nutritious
information and food available for people
locally but also to share with the outside
world to generate economies for different populations. So luckily, what we’re
doing is getting noticed. And we are starting to make
strides and move forward with our plan. I feel that what we’re doing
is much more than a restaurant. And I think for me what
success looks like. So I’m just going to try
to get this to go back. What success looks
like for me is people learning how to
eat traditional foods, having a lot of
biodiversity maintained, and eating what is available. It’s making sure malnutrition
can be solved through eating local ingredients. It’s making sure local farmers
are supported through what they’re doing and the lives
that are in those communities and making sure that chefs
in the outside communities are outside of Africa are
getting this information and getting these ingredients
to be able to consume and use. So what are your takeaways and
what does this mean for you? Well, the first one
is plant forward. Actually, the African
continent is the most plant forward continent there is. There’s a lot of conversations
around circular cuisines, conversations around
reducing our footprint and being able to
feed more people. So I believe that we use a lot
of proteins, nuts, lentils, and seeds to get our protein
sources in the continent. And that’s actually a
lot of fantastic lessons that we can take from Africa. Second is in no, low waste. Again, a lot of
these I can’t say are groundbreaking
new information. But if we look at whether it’s
traditional Italian cooking, traditional French cooking,
a lot of traditional cuisines very much use
everything, whether it’s from the plants from the roots
to the leaves or animals, making sure we use everything. There is just in this image
here in the bowl up here is something called wele. And in Ghana, it’s actually
the skin of the cow, and we eat that as well. It’s actually a
delicacy in Nigeria. There was a shoe company,
Bata Shoe Company, that was building
a factory there, and they finished
building the factory. 170 million people. Great population. You can make the shoes
there, and then you can actually send it out to
the rest of the subregion. So after they finished
building the factory, they realized that, well, they
weren’t getting the leather. And that’s when they understood
that they were directly competing with the
other consumers that were using the skin. So it’s really
important to understand how we can use
more of everything that we are taking out of the
ground or eating as animals. Our cuisine is very
bold flavors over fat. So in classic French
cuisine, you’ll see creams, butters,
milks, cheeses. But in our cuisine,
you will start to see a lot of the
fermented items. You will start to see the
salted, smoked items put into food. So when we go back to
sort of the more plants, imagine a big bowl of
a tomato braised bean with a little bit of
smoked fish in there. You don’t need a
lot of smoked fish, just a little bit of flavor,
and it goes a long way. So these are some
of the ways that we use those preservation
techniques to influence our flavors. The next is wild and foraged. This is a leaf
called [? boma, ?] and it’s a nightshade. It’s from the eggplant family. And it’s actually something
that we never plant. We never cut down trees for it. It grows in the wild, and
that’s how we harvest it. And so things like this,
things like goats, snails that actually have a very
low impact on the planet are things that we need to
continue to use more of. Communal. So I lived in Senegal
for six years. My first year, I had
some family friends that would invite me
over on Saturdays. And there’s a dish
called ceebu jen. And normally they serve
it on a big platter. They would do two
plates, one that was for the women and children,
and one that was for the men. And the group sitting around it
would engage in conversation. And I remember my
very first time, I was sitting there and
struggling with my French on one side. And everyone was asking
me lots of questions, and I was trying to answer
them and was thinking really hard while eating. The food just never stopped,
and I was really full, but I kept looking down,
and the plate was full. And then I noticed that
because I was a visitor, everybody was
giving me what they felt was their favorite
part of that dish. So they had the fish
balls, shrimp balls. There was cabbage. There’s all different
kinds of vegetables that were in the dish. And everybody would take
it and whatever they loved, they gave it to me. And as I was talking,
they were just kind of– all these pieces were
coming towards me. But I think it just teaches a
certain level of hospitality. I think also when you’re eating
in that kind of a context, you eat healthier, because
you’re amongst other people. In Ethiopia, they go as far as
there’s a practice where you actually hand feed the visitor. So these are all just ways
of showing hospitality. The name of my
company is Midunu, which means “come, let’s eat.” And I named it that because in
many ways, we never eat alone. It doesn’t matter
how much someone has or how little they have. If someone has arrived
and there’s food around, you always invite them to eat. And then ancient grains. We have taff. We have sorghum. There’s millet. There’s fonio. These are all grains that
are drought tolerant. They grow in poor quality
soil, and they are gluten free. So in this day and age, I
think with climate change, there is a lot that we can
learn and there’s a lot that we can do as we
start thinking about what we should be eating in 2050. And the last one is
thickeners and emulsifiers. So as I was preparing
to come here, I started thinking to myself,
OK, what is there that we use? And the list started growing
and growing and growing. And I was trying
to figure out why. But we have many thickeners
that we use for our soups, particularly in West Africa. The first that I grew up using,
what my mom used to always use, was garden eggs. Garden eggs are small, white,
eggplant kind of vegetable that we let cook in something
called [? light ?] soup. So my mom would cook it in the
[? light ?] soup, take it out. In the US, you would blend
it, but then traditionally you would actually grind it, and
then put it back in the soup. That was a very basic
thickener that we would use. Then there was something called
potash that we would use, and that would actually
thicken as well. I think the other one is okra. So we have different
ways of using okra. We had the fresh okra. We have a dried one. And depending on
how ground it is, if it’s in sort
of slightly dried and then done by mortar
and pestle versus milled, the milled version
actually allows you to get much higher
viscosity in the soup. There is a leaf. Mommy, what’s it called? The one for ayoyo? It’s ayoyo? I think in English
it’s called water leaf. It has a [? draw ?]
consistency to it. And there’s something
called the dika kernel. And all of those are
actually used as thickeners. And as I started thinking
about it, a lot of people think of okra and think
of it as something slimy. And I started
looking more and more at the West African
context, and I was wondering why we have a
lot of these sauces that draw. And as I thought
about it, that’s actually when I realized
we have these starches that need coating. And you’re eating
with your hand, you need something
that’s not going to just slide right back down. It’s going to actually hold so
that you can actually eat it, and it will get into your mouth. So I actually think that
there’s a big space for us to understand more about these
emulsifiers, think more about these thickeners, how we
can use them for both food and for non-food applications. And I also forgot there’s
the baobab leaves. Both the fruit and the leaves
have emulsifying properties that I think are really
interesting to think about. So this is something
that we call– so in Ghana, we
have these symbols. They’re called adinkra symbols. And adinkra symbols
are symbols that talk about big concept in society. So this particular
one is called sankofa. And what it is, it’s a bird,
or it’s a chicken maybe, facing forward with its body,
and its neck is turning back. In its beak is a golden egg. That golden egg is the
knowledge and the information from the past that it’s
going to bring forward in order to move into the
future with that knowledge. And I think that’s what a lot
of traditional cuisines are. A lot of these
traditional cuisines have beautiful understandings
of both the science and the reasoning why
we did what we did. And I think we need to make
sure that as we move forward, we actually carry it with us. So as we started
in the beginning, I want you to close
your eyes again. I want you to
think of that dish, whether it was the cinnamon
roll, the moimoi, anything else that you were thinking of. I want you to now picture
my dish next to yours and then think about how
you will protect your dish and how you will
help me protect mine. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Are there any questions? Yes. So I think this
goal of preserving traditional African
cuisine is an amazing goal. At what point do you
consider it traditional? I can imagine that pre-colonial
techniques in foods [INAUDIBLE] Yeah, I mean, there’s both. Food as dynamic,
as it should be. I think it’s not about defining
it has to be pre or post, but let’s just
capture what we have. I don’t want to– I mean, if you look
at the continent, you’ll have in Senegal
there’s amazing influence of Vietnamese cuisine. You’ll find nem on
almost every menu. You’ll have the cape
malay in South Africa. You’ve got a lot of Indian
influence in East Africa. And so it’s a very fluid thing. I think food tells a
story of migration, and we need to understand
and respect that as well. So it’s both. Yeah. Yeah? How much of the
typical [INAUDIBLE] Yeah. There’s a lot. So on one side, there’s
dumping from everywhere. There is dumping from
Europe, from the US, from other parts of the world. There’s people who– governments
who subsidize, and therefore trade imbalances that
are coming through. There are policies where
most of the farmers that are doing larger scale
farming are not incentivized. Well, let me put it this way. If you are growing and you
want to put in irrigation, you need electricity. You need all these things. And by the time you
finish, it actually needs to be a larger
farm, and then people automatically
think foreign exchange. So what can I do to
sell something and get money, foreign exchange
for it and come back to make my business profitable? Some of the issues
around that, some of it is just a lot of young people
don’t want to go into farming. They haven’t seen their
parents successful at it. The median age, for example,
for a farmer in Ghana is in their late 50’s. And if people aren’t
going into farming, then it becomes difficult. There’s also issues
of economies of scale. So again, if we talk about
the poultry, the poultry, the reason it’s
twice as expensive as imported is because
80% of that ticket price is feed, which they’re
bringing in from outside. We’ve also got
government policies from all over the
world where they’re trying to push a lot
of the stuff that is no longer cool and hip
in the US, for example, whether it’s cigarettes,
whether it’s soda. They need to find a
new market for it, and we’re the new market. And so those items are
coming in and flooding out a lot of other opportunities. And they have the money
for the advertising. So those are some
of the challenges. There’s also infrastructure. When I talked about
no waste, no waste is amazing, because our
loss, our food loss, is not post consumer loss
like it is in the US. Most of our food
loss is actually linked to postharvest loss. So it’s between the
farmer maybe not having refrigeration
when he takes it out, not being able to
get it on a truck soon enough, or
the truck breaking down on its way to market. So there’s a lot of different
elements that contribute to it. And then you have things
where, again, as I said, it’s considered village food. And so people won’t want to
eat it, and they want to eat– like my mom and I, we were
saying how when she grew up, she grew up eating
millet and brown rice. She moved to Accra. She grew up in the
north of Ghana. She moved to Accra,
and then when you move to Accra, big town,
big city, bright lights. So you’re going to
white imported rice. So there are a
lot of different– and that’s why I
think a lot of it has to also do with behavior
change and understanding that actually this
is just as good. In fact, it’s actually
better than what might be coming from outside. I don’t know if that
answers your question. So it’s complex. [LAUGHS] Yeah? Just to further
elaborate on that, I wanted to ask you
about [INAUDIBLE].. The things you were saying in
response to demographic change. You asked the question, what
are you going to eat in 2050? But the population in
2050 is tripled of what Africa’s population is now. [INAUDIBLE] So in 100
year span, ostensibly, a lot of these
traditional things were built when
there were literally 1/10 of the number of
people in the population. So is any of this
going to scale? Really, if you want
to make everything an order of magnitude
bigger, [INAUDIBLE] how do you handle that? I think there is
definitely a space for food production in
terms of improvements to food production. So even if we said we were– let’s say, millet. Millet is great. It manages all the
erratic rainfall. We could still use sort
of a perennial millet so that we’re not having
to replant every season. There’s a lot of
improvements that can be done to the
existing, whether it’s seed stock or post-harvest
loss that needs to happen. But there’s also, I
think, what we kind of, at least in my
perspective, forget about is also behavior change. So we actually
have to get people to want to eat this food. And behavior change
is a lot slower than the technology change. So it’s going to take
people a lot longer for us to be ready to eat
that millet than it is for us to find the technology
to grow a better quality millet. So the environmental
degradation is an issue, but I would also say that some
of that soil is a bit delicate. So in Ghana, even though
we have a really good soil, the soil matter is– the organic soil matter
is still quite thin. So there is fragility
in the soil. Those things still definitely
need to be worked on. Yeah? How do people go about inspiring
a sense of pride [INAUDIBLE] more willing to [INAUDIBLE] Yeah. That’s kind of one of the things
that we’re thinking about. And I think, for
me, it’s how do we get young people to be
excited to eat these dishes? How do we challenge them
to make them more exciting or to modify or
just make them sexy? And I think for the young
people to sort of react to that, I think we need pop culture to
pick some of those things up. So for example, right
now in northern Ghana, there’s a fermented
millet drink that’s become super hip because there’s
like a local rapper that’s singing about it. And so everyone’s
really excited. Someone’s like, well,
this is the moment to kind of push millet. And I think campaigns,
you need to think about it as a focused campaign. Can we get local chefs
and restaurant– if we, for example, food bloggers. There’s a lot of food
bloggers on Instagram that are in Ghana and
Nigeria, et cetera. How do we get them to be
focused on pushing out content on millet? How do we get the local
restaurants to actually start consuming and putting
recipes with millet? Because once you see it in
a restaurant, it’s like, oh, it’s cool now. Then how do we get governments
to actually become buyers? So for example, millet. When I came back, I
became obsessed with it. And I said, OK, let me
just go to the market. I got some millet, and
then we prepared it. My team put it together and I
went and took the first bite and it was like, and
it was all stones. And so I was like, hey
guys, how did you do it? They’re like, well,
we put it out, we picked out all the stones. And I’m like, but there’s
still a lot of stones. And I called my cousin
who grew up in the north and I was like, what do
we do about the stones? She’s like, come. So I went to her house and
she had one big calabash and a smaller calabash. She filled the first
one with water, and then she filled the
small one with the millet. Basic gravity. A little bit of water goes in. The light stuff comes out. The heavy stuff stays down. So by the time you
finished sifting like this, the stones are inside
the small calabash and the millet has
come into the big one. And so we did that
and they cleaned it. I went back and my team was
like, this one from America, what does she know
about cleaning millet? And I was like,
believe me, I want to show you guys how to do this. So we did it, and it worked. And they were all like, wow,
the stones are all here. And then I realized there’s
no way a mother coming home from work at 5:00
PM who’s been stuck in traffic for an hour who
needs to get food on the table for her family is going
to sort out the millet. So she’s going to
go and get rice. And it’s going to
be the imported one, because the local
rice maybe hasn’t been processed well enough. So when you start
thinking about that you realize that we need to
create supply and demand. How do I convince the farmer
to buy the equipment, which is actually available in the
US and lots of other places, to actually process
the millet better? Because right now he’s
thrashing it on the ground. And then how do I
find enough consumers to demand a higher
quality and be willing to pay a slightly
higher price to make sure he wants to do it? And so if you had, whether it
was school feeding programs, prisons, hospitals, et cetera
the government was looking for large amounts, that would
actually incentivize the farmer while you’re getting
the consumers, the domestic consumers,
to pick up the trend. And so there needs
to be this sort of back and forth conversation. But at the same time, right
now, the two most popular ways of preparing millet are ground. Why is that? Because we had stones. And so they had to grind it,
and therefore actually you don’t have to sift it. But if you’ve got two recipes,
all of a sudden you realize, you’re very limited
in your repertoire. So how do we actually create
recipes using both ground and whole so that the whole
system can start moving? So I kind of feel like we
need to pick a crop at a time and then sort of
say, this is the year that we’re just going to
really crush it with millet and then get that going and
get people excited about that. And then maybe next
time, pick another grain. But the other element
is street food sellers. So it’s not all the
fancy chefs that are feeding people
who aren’t hungry, but it’s also the women
that are cooking and doing lunch and breakfast for people
who are on their way to work. So there’s a lot of
traffic in Accra. So people leave– you’re leaving
your house at six o’clock in the morning to
get your office to make sure you’re
there by 8:00, let’s say. So yeah. So basically, you need someone– what people do is they
get to their office by 7:00, because
they leave so early, and then they end up having
breakfast somewhere close to their office. And then because
you’re there, you’re going to have lunch out as well. And then on your way
home, then maybe you’ll eat dinner at home. So those two meals, it’s
really important for us to figure out how to have a
conversation with the women that are doing the
street food to be ready to do these dishes,
the traditional dishes. Because right now they’re
doing rice and chicken. And the reason they’re cooking
rice is because it’s fast. And it’s all about convenience. The traditional foods,
a lot of our foods are traditional slow food. You have to pound the foofoo. So it becomes a Saturday dish. Or it becomes a
dish you eat when you go to your mother’s
house, because you live in an apartment. And the apartment,
your neighbors are going to complain
if you start pounding. And how do we get the
kitchen equipment? So another thing to think about. You’re living in an apartment. So the apartment is
using kitchen equipment that has been developed
for the US market. So that’s not going to
allow you to cook your food. So actually, just by
living in an apartment, you are limited to
eat traditional food. So there’s other
layers of what’s stopping you from doing that. Yeah? What kind of outside partners
would you like [INAUDIBLE]?? I’m looking for more partners. So anyone that wants to,
you’re more than welcome. I want it to be actually
on the documentation side. My dream is for it to
be a youth to elders. So like a intergenerational
conversation. Because if the people
who are the ones that need to absorb this
change are the youth, then we need them to be engaged
in having these conversations and seeing the system
and how it’s broken down. So right now there’s one of
my partners is an architect. So we’ve been having this
conversation about what does the Ghana kitchen
look like in order for us to be able to cook these
traditional dishes? But at the same
time, I need partners that are on the science
side, because there are a lot of plants. I now have a team that’s
doing work around tubers. We are plant based,
but we’re also extremely carbohydrate heavy. So the question
I’m asking is, what did the traditional
carbohydrate dishes look like? Were they as unbalanced
as we’re eating now? Because right now we
eat a lot of starch, and we need to kind
of balance that out with more vegetables
in the urban areas. So I’m trying to understand
urban versus rural. What does that look
like and in time 50 years ago, what did
that dish look like, and today what does
that dish look like? So as we’re collecting
that information, they’re coming back from
the farms with fruit, leaves that we actually
don’t know the names of. The women in the
village are like, we don’t know the
name of this one, but it comes this time of year. And we’re trying to identify it. Or they’ll say this is what we
eat when, for example, there’s one leaf it’s like when
you have blood issues. This is what you eat. When you go and do the
research, it’s actually extremely high in iron. So that’s why traditionally
we give it to women after they’ve given birth. So I need to get that
information into the science space so that we can call
it a name so that people can understand it and
that people will take it more seriously. Yeah, so I think for me, it’s
people in the science space, it’s people in the
technology space, it’s people in the
communications. Because actually a lot of
it is giving local dishes a new hip kind of look. So it’s almost literally like
doing like a social media campaign, but not only
social media, but community based conversations. Because in urban
areas, it’s like, hey, that’s what
they eat over there, and they’re super healthy. So maybe we got
to think about it. But in the rural areas,
it’s like, hey, you’re here, but what you have is amazing. There’s no need to
change what you’re doing. And those communities are
not using social media. They’re not using smartphones. It’s more community theater. It’s more radios and that
kind of conversation. So I think everybody has a
role, and even chefs and people eating here, it’s also a role
to eat some of these ingredients but be responsible about how
you buy it and who’s growing it and if those communities are
being empowered and still having access to it. Yeah. Yes? So what’s been the response
to the kind of food you’re trying to prepare [INAUDIBLE]? I know in Nairobi, we
have some restaurants that have picked up
on traditional food and repackaged it. We should be eating this. But at the same
time, the response is [INAUDIBLE] this is
the food we eat at home. Why should we go out? Yeah. So there’s definitely
a lot of that. I think people are, I would
say, it’s been five years. So I would say that people
are coming around to it. One of my challenges
is because it is local ingredients sometimes
are actually twice as expensive, it ends
up being something that is a little bit for
the middle or upper class. So the work that
I’m trying to do now is, how do we find solutions
that fit into other budgets? But for that, it’s about
how do we educate people on how to do that at home? For what I do my
in the restaurant, it’s more of the techniques,
the time, the presentation, the balance is different than
what you would do at home. So what I tend to
do is the things that are going to take
long enough that you’re not going to want to do it at home. So that’s kind of
how I manage it. But I also think that, oddly
enough and sadly enough, the interest of the
international community to what I’m doing has actually
made people now curious about what I’m doing. So in a way, it’s
actually like, oh, OK, if they think it’s cool,
then maybe it is cool. So that’s also been
another side of it. Yes? Do we have time? OK, how about we have
one last question? OK, yes. [INAUDIBLE] Are there
a couple, maybe three or four dishes [INAUDIBLE]. If someone were to say,
what is the Ghanaian dish? Like if one of us wanted
to learn how to cook them. OK. Well, right now
everyone when they’re talking about West Africa
talks about jollof rice. It’s the closest thing,
I think, you’ll probably get to understand it is it’s
kind of like a paella in a way. It’s basically a tomato
based sauce that is– and then you put rice and
let the rice cook with it. And it’s a dish
that historically– I know there are Nigerians
in the room, so I’m just– [LAUGHS] going to be
careful about this one now. It’s a dish that actually comes
from the Senegal Gambia region, and it has migrated
throughout West Africa. So Senegal and Gambia, that
area is actually historically has been called the jollof
region with a [INAUDIBLE] and then the dish is
called jollof rice. So historically, it has
migrated from there. So you won’t see everywhere
from Senegal, Gambia, all the way through
to Nigeria there are versions of this dish. The traditional, I
guess, one that you’ll see in Senegal, in Gambia,
goes by [? ceeb. ?] Ceebu jen. [? Ceeb ?] is the rice. So yeah. West Africa, you would also get
a peanut soup or peanut sauce. You get that in a lot of
countries in West Africa. There’s what else? Moimoi. Moimoi is fantastic. And it’s protein. It’s really satisfying. But then if you go to Southern
Africa and East Africa, you’ll get a lot of
different dishes. But I’ll just speak from
West Africa for now. OK, so thank you
all for coming out. Thank you for all
the great questions. And thank you. [APPLAUSE]