Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"CHEF" First Letter Stands For "Culture" "Compassion" and "Company"

This evening I had the privilege to be among some extraordinary people--nutritionist, coordinators, fellow chefs, volunteers, Niyyirrah El who provided a demonstration of African drumming and dance, and Meghan Johnson, national coordinator for the Share Our Strength Operation Frontline nutrition education program. People who manage to find time in one way or another to give back to the community via City Harvest. Tonight we were gathering to celebrate Black History Month, but moreover to celebrate our improvements, our strengths, our goals and aspirations as a people, moreover as a people concerned with nutrition, health and food in America and beyond.

I arrived a bit after the start time and they were only a few warm and familiar faces present. I began to question the turn out, but soon those thoughts vanished. Within minutes we all found ourselves snacking on fruits, wheat thins and hummus and socializing. Then the festivities kicked off!  Maggie and Aliyah each presented a slide show. The first were photos and facts about a Mali, Africa.  The slideshow focused on the people, the food, and their way of life.  The photos were raw and proved that a picture speaks a thousand words. The other slideshow focused on facts concerning food, nutrition, African Americans and how the migration to America has influenced many of the flavorful cuisines we have today. "Soul food" being one that immediately comes to mind, but that serves as just one of the many examples.

Soon after we were teased with delicious scents of food, but before we could indulge we had to work for it! The deal? We had to dance first! No one dared to complain.  Chances are if you heard the sounds coming from those drums you too couldn’t help but move. It was vibrate, upbeat and soulful if you will.  I must confess, I started off with intentions to dance, but I have problems moving my feet and hands at the same time.  So while Ms. El, the dance instructor and drum player, made the moves easy to follow, I sort of moved to the side and watched as the energy filled the room. Then it was time to eat!   
Now as a chef I pride myself in eating just about anything, or at least trying everything once. Tonight was my first time eating African food. We were fortunate to have Ms. Eva Forson--a chef specializing in African cuisine and a City Harvest OFL chef for almost 10 years--among us.  Ms. Forson made an absolutely delicious, mouth-watering, fall off the bone (you get my point) Yassa Au Poulet (Senegalese chicken braised in lemon sauce).  Alongside this dish was a healthy spin on Mac & Cheese, Ethiopian Lentil Salad and last but not of course not least, Aliyah's Raw Kale Salad with Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins. Need I say more!!!
The evening was phenomenal. It was simple, but diverse. Everything from the presentations, the dance, the food, and the people made the evening special. And while I may never be able to lure Ms. Forson into giving me the secret ingredient for her chicken dish--regardless to how hard I tried, and believe me I tried!--I know it was the love and desire to please others that made the food remarkable. In fact, it was that same passion and devotion from all the attendees that made this Black History celebration memorable. To me the event went beyond a celebration of Black History Month.  While I certainly learned a lot about African American culture, the evening demonstrated how powerful a few diverse people can be when everyone’s compassion is shared among them. 

Thank you everyone at City Harvest, all the attendees, and those who sprits were among us for but unfortunately could not make it, for making such an evening possible. 

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