For the chefs who shared their recipes in this free collection, food isn't just sustenance—it's a source of solace and resistance.

By Korsha Wilson
September 11, 2020
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Dine Diaspora

For Nina Oduro, creative director of Dine Diaspora, a food marketing agency that focuses on the African diaspora, food is typically front and center at events and in virtual gatherings. But as she watched chefs engaging with viewers on live virtual events as part of the Bites&Beats series, a collaboration with fellow Black culture organization Afropunk, she noticed food took a backseat to how people were feeling. 

“There was this thread in all of the conversations that wasn’t about the food—it was about what people were going through,” she says. Though the series featured a wealth of cooking and cocktail demos from chefs, mixologists and bakers from across the African diaspora, viewers wanted to know about the chefs’ wellbeing, how to create and take space for themselves, and how to keep themselves creative.

“People were asking questions like, ‘How do you stay positive,’” Oduro says. The Instagram Live demos became a way for chefs and viewers to gather and talk about how they were coping in the wake of a pandemic that forced them inside and shut down their restaurants, and in the face of ongoing nationwide protests in the aftermath of multiple killings of unarmed Black men by police. “The conversations really became about resilience after June,” she says.

For the chefs who participated in the series, the key to resilience lay in their kitchens. As Oduro points out, Black chefs have not stopped cooking or creating, despite the challenges of this moment. Instead, they’re leaning into these activities as acts of nourishment for themselves. To spread this message, Oduro and her fellow founders Maame Boakye and Nana Ama Afari-Dwamena decided to capture the recipes from the series in Eziban, a free digital cookbook featuring chefs like Eric Adjepong, Paola Velez, DeVonn Francis, Marcus Samuelsson and more. Reading it feels like being invited to a potluck, offering a peek into the unique stories of each chef. Groundnut stew with curry powder from Zoe Adjonyoh sits on a page next to chicken and lamb over rice from Kwame Onwuachi, kelewele (a spicy plantain dish), from Ph.D. student turned food entrepreneur Rachel Laryea, seems tailor-made for pairing with Shannon Mustipher’s Bay Rock punch, made with Jamaican rum. 

And no dinner party would be complete without music, so each recipe also comes with a song that the chef picked to match their dish. Afro beats show up as well as Jay Z thanks to mixologist Andra Johnson, and Duke Ellington and John Coltrane picked by chef Marcus Coleman, showing how African and diasporic influence has shaped culture around the world.

Dine Diaspora Co-Founders, L to R: Nina Oduro, Nana Ama Afari-Dwamena, Maame Boakye
Theo Quansah

Although the chef-contributors highlight flavors from Africa to the Caribbean, America to Europe, they are united in their singular focus. “They’re remaining resilient by using their talents and we want to share that with audiences,” Oduro says. But the book is not trying to show all of the diaspora. “I don’t think we could show it all but we can try to show the nuances,” she says. Even the name of the cookbook, ‘Eziban’, or ‘food’ in Fante, a language spoken in Ghana, was chosen to spark curiosity for those who don’t know what the word means, while also speaking to those that do. “I know anyone who knows this word will see themselves presented and that’s amazing,” she says.

Rachel Laryea, founder and CEO of Kelewele, a plantain focused culinary lifestyle brand, contributed a recipe for her company’s namesake dish, spicy plantains, to Eziban and hopes people see the community that’s present between diasporic cuisines around the world. “Community really animates everything we do at Kelewele and plantains speak to the Diaspora,” she says. “Everyone in the book has their own expression but the baseline there is culture.” Laryea hopes people use the book to learn more about the myriad of ingredients, techniques and cuisines that have been impacted by Africa.

Oduro says this is the first of many digital "booklets" to come that will chronicle the recipes that are shared on the platform and via their social media channels. And Dine Diaspora will keep offering them for free. “These chefs are providing a bit of joy and comfort with these recipes and songs,” she says. “We want to share it with our audiences and show that joy can be resistance, too.”