City Paper is not for tourists
Ethiopian cuisine is well represented in the D.C. area and covered by the press liberally, but other African cuisines don’t penetrate the market as much in terms of availability and exposure. Dine Diaspora is working to change that.
For the last three years, the group, which was founded by three Ghanaian women who live in the D.C. area–Nina Oduro, Maame Boakye, and Nana Ama Afari-Dwamena–has been hosting ticketed dinner parties cooked by a variety of chefs inspired by the African diaspora. The meals expose guests to a broad range of culinary traditions from across the continent.
The organization’s next event on Nov. 19 will be held at 6 p.m. at Gallery NK (321 K St. NE). It features Pierre Thiam, a widely celebrated Senegalese chef. Tickets are $150.
Thiam’s most recent cookbook, “Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl,” was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Book Award this year; he has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown;” and his work has been written up in SAVEUR. His five-course tasting menu will include an okra and seafood stew with plantain foutou (a starchy dumpling used as an edible utensil for the dish) and mafé (a thick peanut stew with lamb).
Oduro hopes that dinners like this one upend guests’ preconceived notions about African cuisine. “There are a lot of stereotypes about African food,” she says. “One: that there is not a lot of food. Two: our food doesn’t translate into a lot of other cultures.”
To overcome the latter issue, the Dine Diaspora team works with chefs to ensure a balance between authenticity and innovation thus encouraging first-timers to try unfamiliar foods. At a past dinner, Chef Eric Adjepong, a New York-based personal chef and a first-generation Ghanaian-American, created paella with traditional Ghanaian jollof rice, a precursor to jambalaya that is flavored with tomato paste and onions. At a different event, Jamaican jerk chicken was presented in the style of a pulled pork slider. Oduro asks, “Who doesn’t like a slider?”
Another overwhelming stereotype is that African food is monolithic. Though there are some analogous dishes that carry across some cultures and countries, the cuisines found across the continent are diverse. “We try not to mesh it all together into one,” says Oduro. “We want each one to stand on its own.”
In addition to the seated dinners, Dine Diaspora hosts Chop Bar cocktail parties and Dish and Sip events, which feature speakers such as culinary historian Michael Twitty, the creator of the food blog Afroculinaria.
Though the group’s activities are currently restricted to the D.C. area, they have seen a growing international interest in their work. “We get so many people from the UK and Canada joining our mailing list and emailing in the hopes we can bring chefs to their countries to do events,” says Oduro. “It’s great to see African food coveted elsewhere. D.C. is just the beginning.”
Photo by Ralston Smith