When the first African Food Festival comes to the Brooklyn Navy Yard this weekend, Ishmael Osekre hopes attendees will feel the strength of the connection that food creates in his homeland.
“In every African setting, whenever two or three people meet, food is somehow involved,” says Osekre, an event organizer who grew up in Ghana and moved to New York for college. “Music is actually in the background, it’s an add-on to the gathering; food is what everyone unites around.”
This weekend’s two-day event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard is a chance to taste what’s actually already in our own backyard. Several of the participating chefs have restaurants in the city, including Buka, Bunna Cafe and Madiba — and if you’re already up on NYC’s African food scene, get excited for Saturday’s special dinner by Pierre Thiam, the Senegalese chef whose Le Grand Dakar was beloved in Clinton Hill before he turned his focus to catering. Besides walk-around tastings, there will be cooking demos, a vegan brunch and beverages like Ethiopian honey wine, palm wine, African beers and specialty teas.
Just as regional varieties exist of dishes like barbecue, African countries often have their own version of classic dishes — for Osekre, Senegal’s version of his beloved peanut soup was a revelation, and he hopes people from the continent will open their minds to new takes on familiar dishes. “It is as much a discovery for us Africans as it is for our American friends and European friends and anyone who is coming,” he says.