11 Aug African Flavors Come to Brooklyn’s Navy Pier at the First New York City African Food Festival
Featuring innovative chef dinners and live music performances, August 13-14, 2016
Many Americans have gotten to know contemporary African art, music, and fashion; they have filtered into and forged American culture. Yet there’s something few Americans outside the diaspora know: Africa is bursting with local culinary experiences, intriguing flavor profiles, and stunning fresh ingredients.
It’s time for Americans of all backgrounds to discover Africa’s food, as up-and-coming and established chefs, food historians, cultural experts, and DJs from across the African diaspora gather to celebrate the continent’s myriad cuisines at the inaugural New York City African Food Festival (August 13 & 14; Duggal Greenhouse at the Brooklyn Navy Pier).
Chefs Pierre Thiam, Marie-Claude Mendy, Coco Reinharz, Zinyusile Khumbula, Melchizedek Mensah, and Grace Odogbili will present some of their signature dishes, flavors that bring together diverse influences with cosmopolitan flair, and flavors directly tied to age-old ways. Festival goers can sign up for a five-course VIP dinner, visit one of several themed tents, or sample dishes from food vendors. “I am so thrilled to be part of the most flavorful event of the year. NYC African Food Festival, a feast for the senses!” exclaims Thiam, whose visionary restaurants help put West Africa on the New York food map.
Chef Marie-Claude Mendy-who introduced the flavors of her native Senegal to Boston at her critically acclaimed Teranga restaurant-will be one of the headliners at New York City’s First African Food Fair. “I couldn’t be happier than to represent my native Senegal and my adopted hometown Boston at this festival.” says Mendy. “I can’t wait to share my food and my heritage!.”
Africa’s food traditions and African chefs’ innovations span the earthy and the exquisite, the homey and the radically fresh. Festival goers can try Africa’s superfoods or dig into sumptuous goat curry ravioli or sweet potato blini with trout caviar. They can experience smoked honey and dates, fonio and red palm, vegan fare and fine dining-ready multi-course feasts.
“We felt it was time to highlight all the energy and creativity that African-heritage chefs are putting out there,” exclaims festival organizer Ishmael Osekre. “Africa is really terra incognita for most foodies, and we wanted to give people a fun way to start exploring.”
Food and drink are woven into a larger cultural fabric, inseparable elements of life in many African communities. NYCAFF embraces this and has carefully created musical and social experiences that capture the whole vibe. “We want to create a 360 African experience for our visitors,” Osekre says.
Festival goers can also kick back in the Shisha (hookah) tent, witness a Habesha coffee ceremony (a rare treat from the Horn of Africa), check out textiles and apparel from around the continent in the Queens Tent, and groove to DJs. The all-lady DJs spin everything from deep house to Afrobeat and Kuduro, and hail from across the Afro-world: Haiti, Mozambique, Ghana, France, Cape Verde, Angola, Germany, and South Africa. Curated by DJ PamBam (Berlin), their sets will kick off and wind up the festivities at the after party.
“Women are so instrumental to cooking and cuisine in Africa,” Osekre notes. “I thought women’s voices should be part of the festival in other ways, as well.”
“Many of these electronic artists and DJs are women I’ve worked with or collaborated with over the years, at festivals and clubs,” adds Pamela Owusu-Brenyah (DJ Pam Bam), whose roots lie in Ghana. “We all share an obsession with club music and our African heritage. It’s a real pleasure to bring them together.”
The Festival will also bring together die-hard jollof fans, for the first-ever U.S. Jollof-Off. This cooking competition, open to all cooks, will pit different recipes for the beloved West African dish against each other, in a good-natured but serious international battle. The one-pot rice-based dish, often compared to pilaf and paella, has taken on endless flavors and forms. Contestants will find out which one wins the day.
The greenhouse setting, easy to reach by water taxi, bike, and foot, was chosen for its ecofriendliness, a reminder of the connection of food, land, and climate. And though far from the birthplaces of these tastes, sights, and sounds, New York City is the perfect place to fete African food. African immigrants have made an indelible mark on the city’s cultural life, and remain a sizeable influence. “Almost a quarter of all African-born immigrants live in New York or other nearby metro areas,” explains Osekre. “New York has become a hub of African food in the US, and more and more people outside the diaspora are catching on.” The festival is curated by Afropolitan Insights.