West African Cuisines in Hell’s Kitchen: Black Chef Brings Africa Home
Embracing one’s culture means to acknowledge and experience a set way of life through social beliefs, spiritual and religious practices, arts, fashion and food. Currently, what has been brewing within the American melting pot is this
Embracing one’s culture means to acknowledge and experience a set way of life through social beliefs, spiritual and religious practices, arts, fashion and food. Currently, what has been brewing within the American melting pot is this shift in the paradigm of consciousness amongst African Americans yearning to connect and accept their African roots alongside their American reality. Some of the ways in which this is being expressed is through culinary arts.
Joy Parham is an African American Chef and a contestant on the American reality TV show Hell’s Kitchen, who takes great pride in specializing in West African Cuisine. This Philadelphian native and co-owner of Urban Country Culinary Concepts located in Philadelphia, graduated from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management. Chef Joy was delighted to do a interview with Applause Africa to share how she uses food to bridge the gap between African American and African Culture.
Applause Africa: If you could describe the taste of West African Cuisine in one word, what would it be?
Chef Joy: “Essential” would be the term that I would use to describe it. It’s essential for us to embrace our history and culture as African Americans. Once you have your first bite you secretly can tell something has been missing from your life, you taste more than just the delightful flavors of the West African cuisine. You taste the heritage, the culture, the stories, and traditions.
AA: Who was the first person that taught you how to cook West African Cuisine? Also, what is your favorite West African dish to make and why?
Chef Joy: My good friend Baindu was the first person to teach me how to create West African dishes. She taught me how make jollof rice at our very first apartment in college. At the moment, my favorite dish to make is Peanut Butter Soup. It’s the second dish I was taught how to cook. I’m positive that will change again and again.
AA: What do you think are some of the major misconceptions that African Americans and Africans have of each other?
Chef Joy: One major misconception that bothers me is hearing people, Africans and Americans alike, not feeling that we are one in the same. Black in America isn’t easy for anyone blessed with our beautiful mahogany hues. No matter which mode of transportation we took to get here; we are all here together on Native American land.
AA: As an African American Chef specializing in West African Cuisine, how do you think you have helped to bridge the gap between African Americans and Africans?
Chef Joy: I have noticed over time that other African Americans are open to hearing about West African foods and tasting them because there is a certain level of comfort people have when dealing with “their own.” In a sense, I have become a vessel of sorts to educate and influence people to seek a connection to Africa. Africa was and has almost always been referred to as the place where our ancestors came from, but most of our knowledge is limited to the slave trade. Although I have such a strong passion for food and people, I know its time to begin educating beyond the kitchen. It’s time to bring Africa into our homes, our dinner tables, our storytelling, and our history books. Simply wearing a dashiki because it’s a trend wont connect you.
AA: Have you ever traveled to any countries in Africa? if so, how was that experience for you and how has it influenced your knowledge of West African Cuisine?
Chef Joy: No, I haven’t yet, however, I will be travelling to Ghana and Sierra Leone in December 2016. Excited would be an understatement to express how I feel about my upcoming trip! I’ll be visiting both countries for the same reasons: to learn and connect with people and places.
AA: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Chef Joy: Within the next ten years, I plan on expanding my food knowledge to include other regions of the African Continent with travel, education, and networking with individuals who have invaluable information. More importantly, I envision myself being more than a chef. I see myself as a community leader educating and connecting African Americans to our true roots tied to the continent of Africa.