African food is trending internationally. But most likely you don’t know, have never tried—have never heard of (until now)—Fulani cuisine.
So, specific to this story: first, what is African food?
Then, who are (a) Toronto-based, Ghana-born, culinary entrepreneur Yorm Tagoe and (b) Sierra Leone-born, Accra-based chef Fatmata Binta?
And what is this taste and cultural mission they are on—the concepts of taste and culture being intimately intertwined—presenting, to the world, A Taste of Foutta Djallon? This being a series of Pan-African nomadic dining experiences celebrating the culinary traditions of the nomadic Fulani people.
Hint: Keep an eye on the Foutta Djallon events schedule to see when they’re bringing one of four Fulani cuisine eating experiences to a city near you—especially if you live in North America, the UK or Africa.
So What is African Food?
“There is no single story to African food. No lone narrative. No hallmark dish that represents the 54 kingdoms that comprise the continent. In fact, to say ‘African food is diverse’ might in itself be an understatement,” says Yorm Tagoe, the jet-setting businesswoman who five years ago founded eSsense13 — “a food brand with a mission” and what Tagoe calls her “side-hustle.”
The eSsense13 goal? “Sharing the African food story with a wider audience, raising the profile of African food businesses, and equipping these businesses with the tools required to succeed.”
To simply call African food “diverse,” says Tagoe, fails to capture “the depth, breadth and what food is—and means—to the endless permutation of people and traditions that make up Africa.”
African food, she points out, represents far more than nutrition. “Many dishes can be traced back to an origin that tells the story of resourcefulness, struggle, boundless innovation, triumphs, conflict and love.”
African food is typically under-appreciated and misunderstood in the Western context.
Last year Tagoe launched her Item 13: An African Food Podcast series “as another means of sharing the African food story with a wider audience.”
It was through this that she first connected with Fatmata Binta, Chef de Cuisine of Fulani Kitchen. Together Binta and Tagoe are committed to raising the profile of African food by spotlighting Fulani cuisine through online and offline platforms, stories, events and experiences.
Which in itself is cutting edge.
While “African food” is trending, a secondary and related “movement” these days is seeing people interested in, curious about, drawn to food: as stories and experiences. Not just as something pretty, or nutritious, or fast, put in front of them on a plate.
Tasting the Fulani Story
The Fulani are traditionally a nomadic, pastoralist trading people. They are one of the largest and most culturally diverse groups in Africa, spread across many countries in West, Central and Eastern Africa. The largest concentrations are found in Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso and Ghana.
A significant number of the Fulani, an estimated 12 to 13 million, are pastoralists, making them the ethnic group with the largest nomadic pastoral community in the world. They herd cattle, goats and sheep across the vast dry hinterlands of their domain, keeping somewhat separate from the local agricultural populations.
“But even there, there is no single story,” says Tagoe.
“The Fulani people are artisans who hand-craft baskets and mats.” They are musicians, beauticians, entrepreneurs—the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari (is Fulani)— and more.
They are—listen to this—the largest nomadic ethnic group in the world, and inhabit territories over an area larger in size than the continental United States.
“For the Fulani people, given their nomadic customs, a meal is not just food on a plate,” says Chef Binta. “It represents a moment of reprieve, of pause, of reflection and togetherness. A reminder of what truly matters in the hustle of the day: whether herding their cattle in the fields or selling them at a market. At every stop, they gather, commune, honor the local context while preserving their rich culture.”
The cuisine, she says, is mainly derived from cattle and includes products like yogurt, milk, butter and meat. Other staples include porridge; groundnuts (peanuts); starches like sorghum, fonio and corn; a popular local rice called “nyiiri” which they eat with leafy soups (“haako”) made from onions, peppers, vegetables; and sun-dried root vegetables dishes.
Like the Fulani people, both Chef Binta and Tagoe, via eSsense13, are intent on sharing traditions, meals and bringing people together to reflect, to connect—to experience the community, love and culture of the Fulani people through sharing experiences and stories focused on vibrant Fulani-inspired seasonal gourmet dishes.
Chef Binta In and Out the Kitchen
Chef Binta was born and raised in Freetown, Sierra Leone to first-generation Sierra Leonean Fulanis of Guinean descent. She, like Tagoe, has traveled widely—and continues to travel—these days to take their Taste of Foutta Djallon to the world. For the past seven years, she has been based in Accra.
What inspired you to become a chef?
Binta: My love for cooking started in my childhood, as I said. But it was spending time in Spain between jobs that I finally listened to all the people who said, “Binta you can cook.” I ventured into sandwich-making and selling my sandwiches to MBA students. They loved them. I was always cooking and inviting people to come over to eat and I realized that formalizing and polishing my skills was a fantastic idea.
Did you have formal training?
Binta: I have traveled widely and been fortunate to work with renowned African chefs. I honed my culinary skills at Boma International Hospitality College in Nairobi, Kenya. Prior to starting Fulani Kitchen, I worked at several boutique hotels in Accra, most recently (the prestigious) Villa Monticello. I met Yorm online when we starting following each other—then formally when she hosted my “Master Class” on her eSsense13 podcast platform.
Tell me about your Fulani food.
Binta: The Fulani Kitchen menu is inspired by the culture and food of Fulani people. We are nomads, so this means a lot of our food is influenced by this lifestyle. Our food is mostly prepared using ingredients that are sun-dried and can be preserved for months. It is a mixture of dairy, meat, cereals and plant ingredients. This is reflected in my menu. It must be noted that as nomads we adopt/borrow from the different communities we settle in or visit. As such I travel across West Africa to visit different Fulani settlements to understand their cuisine and compare them with my ancestral culinary heritage. This knowledge I use to create specific themes for my events. At the same time, I add recipes I have learned whilst traveling across Africa and influences from my home country of Sierra Leone.
You offer items like avocado ice cream…
Binta: One of the objectives I try to achieve is fusing gourmet techniques with traditional cuisine. In short, I try to bring a modern twist to our African/Fulani dishes. So, as you mentioned there is avo ice cream and fonio salad.
What does travel means to you.
Binta: Travel means learning, connecting, exploring, and making memories. When I travel I learn about different customs and traditions; in essence what makes us as humans different and similar. Traveling also allows me to connect with fellow chefs, food bloggers and foodies. This in turn means I can explore new cuisines and possibly integrate new ingredients or recipes with items on the Fulani Kitchen menu. Finally, traveling is about making memories—mostly good ones, but also the spontaneous and unintended, which tend to mold our personalities.
Meet eSsense13’s Yorm Tagoe
Tagoe was born in Ghana, lived for a period in South Africa (where she got married) and is now based in Toronto, Canada. She has held events in Accra and London unrelated to Fulani Kitchen dinners. These include her Accra FoodHack, Food Business Pitches and most recently Africa Food Week in London.
Please tell me about your collaboration with Chef Binta.
Tagoe: I first connected with her to host a Chef Masterclass in Accra. I interviewed her on the podcast shortly after that and based on several follow-up conversations, we decided that an international tour would be a great collaboration: linking the nomadic Fulani culture and my goals of helping African food businesses reach a wider audience.
Would you call yourself an entrepreneur?
Tagoe: I have an accounting/finance/business/IT background. My day job, in particular, has taken me to several places around the world. I found myself consistently in spaces where people had no idea what “African food” was. I set out to inform and educate on the diversity of African foods and also showcase the people behind African food businesses in major cities around the world. The platform then evolved to provide opportunities for these organizations to sharpen business skills and obtain funding.
Any more comments on Fulani food and African cuisine?
Tagoe: African food seems to have become on-trend in the last couple of years. West African food, in particular, has been highlighted quite a bit with the jollof wars taking over much of the conversation. I think our Fulani food focus and “experience” tours will add a new dimension to the conversation and highlight nuances to West African cuisine.
What does travel mean to you?
Tagoe: I have been lucky enough to live in and travel to many cities around the world through my experience in business school and my full-time job. Travel for me is always about discovering new places, cultures, people—and even discovering oneself. It also makes you realize how connected we are as humans. And the teeny tiny place we each occupy in the world.
So now you’ve heard of Fulani cuisine. You’ve dipped into the stories and had a taste of the experience. You’ve met the two dynamic women sharing it with the world. Next step, try it! Keep on top of the Foutta Djallon events schedule. See @fulani_kitchen on Instagram, @chef_binta on Instagram, @essense13 on Instagram.