Update Sept. 22: “Inibla (Let’s eat) An East African meets West African inspired dinner” is now sold out.
Original post, Sept. 21: For Selasie Dotse, a chef with multiple Michelin-starred restaurants on their resume, breaking free from the Bay Area’s most celebrated kitchens meant not only being able to cook the food they wanted, but also the chance to discover more about their own heritage and history.
On Sunday, Dotse’s last few years crafting dishes reflective of their native Ghana, and creating space for more African representation in upscale dining, will be on display at a collaborative pop-up dinner with Brundo Spice Company at Oakland’s Cafe Colucci. Tickets ($125) are still available for the seven-course meal, “Inibla (Let’s eat) An East African meets West African inspired dinner.”
Dotse, who has worked at acclaimed Bay Area restaurants including Lazy Bear and SPQR, started doing pop-up concepts during the pandemic. Their current venture is e le ade Test Kitchen, which is focused on applying fine-dining techniques to Ghanaian dishes and other global cuisines. “E le ade” means “tasty” or “appealing to the tongue” in the Ewe language. Dotse has been collaborating with chefs, restaurants, farmers, and other food and drink companies on various pop-up dinners and events.
Dotse was inspired to start their own business in part because they often felt isolated and stereotyped in the white-male-dominated kitchens where they worked.
“My experience in a lot of these kitchens was not bad, but not great either,” Dotse said. “I was almost always the only Black person, and always the only Black, queer, immigrant chef. A lot of these kitchens are centered on white men, or white people, and they don’t take the time to find ways to make Black and other people feel comfortable. We’re expected to fit in wherever we can. That doesn’t work. We have different experiences in life, and people should acknowledge that.”
A chance to be their “authentic self”
Dotse is from the Volta region of Ghana and the Ewe ethnic group, but was raised in North Carolina and Georgia. When Dotse left North Carolina for the Bay Area, they expected the environment to improve because of the region’s reputation for progressive politics.
“A lot of the talk in the Bay is performative,” they said. “I’m really trying to create an environment where people of color, and Black people especially, can be their authentic selves without judgement and criticism. A lot of times when I worked in these kitchens, I felt like I had to make myself smaller. I don’t like that. I love food. I love feeding people and giving them a great experience, but I can’t do that if I can’t be myself.”
Inspired by the Soul Food Sessions, an all-Black-chef dinner series they participated in while in North Carolina, Dotse decided to start their own business and cook the food they wanted — and to create more space for African and Black chefs in fine dining.
Through the process of starting e le ade Test Kitchen, Dotse has grown closer to their heritage, and on Sunday at Cafe Colucci, Dotse will combine Ethiopian and Ghanaian dishes and flavors to create a unique, cross-regional meal.
“A lot of people are more familiar with the Akan culture, but my people are the Ewe,” Dotse said. “So, I’ve been talking with my aunts and uncles in Ghana, and I also have a drum teacher here who is teaching me West African drumming. We talk about the foods too. So, I’m really immersing myself in learning about my background, getting all the knowledge, and tying it into the dinner.”
“It’s our time”
Dotse’s mission and Cafe Colucci’s goals are well matched. General Manager Daniel Aderaw Yeshiwas said when he heard Dotse was using Brundo Spices for other pop-ups they had done, he immediately reached out to talk about a collaboration.
“I think we have similar ideas and similar energies, so it was a really natural pairing,” he said. “One of our goals is to support a more elevated African dining experience. Often in the restaurant business ethnic food is only seen in this small window of mom and pops or a less refined experience. Especially in the Bay Area those elevated experiences are lacking, and we want to change that.”
The Inibla menu includes a spin on asa tibs, an Ethiopian fried fish dish typically seasoned with berbere. Dotse is making the dish with tempura black cod and modifying it into a taco using an injera tortilla, while also swapping the traditional chili pepper sauce with Shitor, a Ghanaian condiment made with dried shellfish, ginger, garlic and spices.
The menu also features a take on kitfo, an Ethiopian raw beef dish, for which Dotse will use Suya, a West African barbeque spice made from peanuts. The dish will also be accompanied with collard greens from Raised Roots Farm and an injera cracker.
Cafe Colucci is curating drink pairings with all African- and Black-owned beverage companies, including selections from Wachira Wines, Brown Estates, Bayab Gin and Vusa Vodka.
Both Dotse and Yeshiwas said they expect to collaborate again, and Dotse is working on additional yet-to-be-announced pop-up dinners with fellow Bay Area chefs in the near future.
One of Dotse’s larger goals is to create a strong Bay Area community of Black and African chefs who support one another. They are also working on a dinner series called “A Hard Pill to Swallow” to directly tackle issues of racism and representation in the food industry.
“I want other Black and African chefs to know they don’t have to cook Eurocentric food,” Dotse said. “They don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. Our food is American food, it is Southern food. It’s our time.”
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