The aroma of fresh herbs teases you into an unassuming Playa Del Rey home in central Los Angeles. With a beaming smile, chef Afia Annabasua says, “Akwaaba” or welcome in her native language and immediately makes you feel at ease. A kitchen filled with copper pots and tables laid out with fresh vegetables meet the eye while Moroccan lanterns hang overhead. Even as you grasp all the sights and smells, she beautifully plates and presents one of her creations, introducing you to cuisines seldom accessible or available outside of Africa itself.
“I began cooking when I was 7 or 8-years-old,” says Anabasua, a chef and culinary enthusiast specializing in not only food from her home country, Ghana, but also from the larger continent as a whole. You won’t find her at a local restaurant or any of the many food festivals in the city. She has built her hidden gem of a business in a somewhat unorthodox way – through cooking classes and chefs tables, typically held in her own home or clients’ locations.
From Moroccan and Egyptian delicacies to Kenyan and Tanzanian dishes, she can cook up a storm for anywhere between two and a few hundred people with equal finesse. Given her natural flair for conversation and cooking, Anabasua decided to put those strengths together to create her business, Taste Africa in Style. Her offerings extend to pescatarian, vegan and vegetarian options, and you can reserve a seat for any of these classes or feasts through her website.
“When I came to America about 20 years ago and couldn’t find anywhere to eat the type of food I wanted, I started cooking for myself and that led to all the other opportunities,” she shares. A friend introduced her to Cozymeal, where she now teaches a few classes every few weeks. She also teaches and hosts dinners via Feastly, Coursehorse and at the Gourmandise LA School in Santa Monica. The price range is from $50-$150 and includes a range of dishes. “My classes take me all over the city from downtown and Venice to Beverly Hills and Malibu,” says Anabasua. Going by the glowing reviews on each of the sites, she appears to be a hit with anyone who attends.
Longing for a Taste of Home
Born in Ghana, Anabasua originally went to school for fashion, which eventually brought her to the U.S. She did, however, also accompany her sister to catering school and those skills have translated well into her current passion of feeding friends old and new gastronomic creations inspired by her history, culture and upbringing. While her mother is Ghanaian, her roots on the paternal side can be traced to Egypt, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and her father is from Paga, the upper east region of northern Ghana.
“West African cuisine is a little bit spicy, but North Africans don’t like the spice and heat as much as they do in the West,” explains Anabasua, when asked about how food from the continent is sometimes labeled as originating from one country. “One thing in common is the flavors in African food – you cook slowly, it takes time, it’s a labor of love, but at the end it is delicious. It all depends on which part of Africa you are talking about. The techniques are different, the taste is different. Africa is multicultural that way, depending on the villages and your ethnicity, and that’s what makes it Africa,” says Anabasua.
As for Ghanaian staples, everything begins with fufu which is made with cassava and green plantain. Pound them together into a really sticky dough and eat with peanut or palm oil soup. “You will need the soup to swallow the fufu,” she explains. “You can also use African yam or malanga root (taro) to make it.” Other mainstays in a Ghanaian meal include the polenta from the Volta region and kenkey from the Ga people – fermented corn dough cooked in a corn husk, eaten with hot pepper and fish. Jollof rice is commonly eaten with or without meat and there is also the kelewele seen everywhere on the streets of Ghana which is ripe plantain marinated in is pepper, ginger, garlic and onions and fried for a sweet and savory flavor.
While you can find a few videos of her online on YouTube, Anabasua is most excited about a recent video shoot soon to be released on the Cooking Channel where she shares more about otto – a traditional Ghanaian dish made for a coming of age celebration. Otto is made with yam, oil and nuts as well as eggs, which are considered a symbol of fertility, and served in a special bowl to commemorate the event.
In the future, she is considering opening restaurants in Ghana (possibly a safari lodge) and Dubai on the insistence of friends and family there. For now, she is happy hosting her classes and feasts, “I like what I do now because I meet people from around the world and talk to them, explaining the food and culture. When people come here to my home, we eat together and we don’t talk just about Africa. We talk about everything and we all get along just fine.”