As hungry Yalies feasted on a variety of traditional Ghanaian and Senegalese dishes on Wednesday evening, world-renowned chefs Selassie Atadika and Pierre Thiam discussed sustainability and biodiversity in African cuisine, the politics surrounding food consumption and the environmental impact of modern agriculture.
Hosted by Yale Hospitality at Yale on York, the event began with a speech from Titilayo Mabogunje ’20 to introduce the panel’s moderator, Eddie Mandhry, director for Africa and the Middle East at the Yale Office of International Affairs, and the panel’s two speakers. Part of Yale Hospitality’s ongoing “Food Conversation Series,” the dishes served at the dinner were intended to supplement the discussion topics at hand. These dishes included Ghanaian gari foto, plantains and garbanzo beans, peanut stew and coconut pudding with mango. According to the registration email sent to students last week, the event was limited to the first 170 meal plan holders to register. The event was at capacity.
“My food is where cuisine, culture and community are intersecting with environment, sustainability and economy,” Atadika said in the panel. “I’m trying to find a way to bring all of those elements together through my experiences and the perspectives that I’ve gained.”
Atadika — who visited Yale last semester for a different Food Conversation — is the chef and owner of Midunu, a culinary lifestyle company and pop-up restaurant that offers a “monthly nomadic eating experience” in Accra, Ghana. She characterizes her culinary approach as “New African Cuisine.” Atadika said that in her work she attempts to transform how chefs treat plants and animals and use “bold flavors over fats” and “ancient grains” such as teff, amaranth and fonio — the oldest cultivated grain in Africa, according to Thiam.
She added that there is an often ignored connection, particularly in the United States, between food and politics. Atadika encouraged people to “vote with their fork” — in other words, to recognize that their consumption choices can have a profound impact on the political landscape. She finally asked participants to think about the relationship between small communities and the global economy.
“We need to diversify our diets,” Thiam said. “The modern agricultural system is imposing to us. There are consequences on ourselves and on the planet.”
Thiam — who hails from Dakar, Senegal — is an author and social activist, and serves as the executive chef at restaurants in Dakar, New York City and Lagos, Nigeria. He is the co-founder of Yolele Foods, a company that seeks to distribute fonio — the ancient grain — from African farmers to nearby cities and the rest of the world.
According to Thiam, “insects are the protein of the future.” He said over 2 billion people have consumed insects for generations, and that a colonial mentality has brainwashed the West into believing insects are “gross.” Thiam noted that insects are more environmentally sustainable than other proteins like beef and “taste delicious” when prepared well. Echoing Atadika’s understanding of the politics of food, Thiam advocated for conscious and creative consumption practices.
The event concluded with cooking demonstrations for two of the dishes served at the dinner. Thiam prepared a fonio beet salad with pickled carrots, and Atadika made an amaranth leaf salad accompanied by a caramelized shallot vinaigrette.
“In New Haven, there’s a lack of African food. So, I was really excited to try some of the food that my family makes right here on campus,” said Liam Curtis ’23, who attended Wednesday’s dinner and panel. “The event was super innovative and exposed me to all types of African foods I’ve never even tried before. I really like how they infused the idea of biodiversity with African cuisine.”
Senior Director of Residential Dining Adam Millman said that Food Conversations “break the monotony of dining on a regular basis.” He said that Yale Hospitality has focused on making the events “mission-driven and relevant topics to students.” He said that the University’s mission is “to educate, to tie back into traditions and to focus on innovation, and that’s what these conversations do.”
Millman added that the events began as a guest chef series approximately five years ago. The success of these events led Yale Hospitality to invest the resources necessary to develop the series into its modern form.
“Topics fit closely with Hospitality’s initiatives and have an academic bent,” Yale Hospitality Communications Manager Melissa Roberts wrote in an email to the News. “The chefs invited to and drawn here are aligned similarly.”
Recent installments in the “Food Conversation Series” include a “mindfulness unexpected” dinner with celebrity chef Elizabeth Falkner and yoga instructor Sarah Girard. Following a multicourse dinner, Falkner — who has both competed and judged on televised cooking competitions such as “Iron Chef America” and “Chopped All Stars” — and Girard served on a panel and discussed food, stress and healthy eating.
The week before, Yale Hospitality held an event titled “Food for Thought” that sought to highlight the cultural and culinary diversity present in Yale’s community. Yale Hospitality invited students to submit recipes of personal significance, 13 of which were selected as part of the featured menu, were prepared by dining staff and served at the Jan. 22 event. At the dinner, students discussed the memories associated with each dish.
Yale on York is located at 150 York St.
Ako Ndefo-Haven | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Feb. 14: This article has been updated to accurately describe previous installments in the Food Conversations Series.