It’s Ghana Be Good: Chef Zoe Adjonyoh and Students Bake Up a Storm in Commons

When my friend told me that there was going to be a guest chef visiting Bates, my ears immediately perked up. As I exited Commons with them, I was greeted by a sign and subsequently, enthusiastically marked the events in my planner. Despite my attempt to follow my schedule, I arrived a little late to the “Decolonizing the Food Industry, Where Do We Start” lecture on Tuesday night. There I was greeted by Chef Zoe Adjonyoh, who spoke about how everyone needs different things to fuel their respective body, mind and soul. This stuck with me throughout the evening as I pondered my own choices of nourishment. 

The following day at lunch, I returned to the second floor of Commons for a cooking demonstration with a sense of purpose. Each place was set with a signed copy of her cookbook, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, as well as Okra Salt and a spice blend known as Kelewele. She sells various West African spices that are sustainably sourced and shipped internationally so that everyone can enjoy the unique flavors. We then watched as she incorporated the ingredients in front of us into the dish she prepared; Red-Red, a black-eyed peas stew made with red palm oil. As she cooked, she explained more about each of the spice blends she was using and where to source the produce sustainably. To accompany the beans in the pot, plantains sizzled right beside them. With the help of dining services, she sliced and fried a very ripe plantain to serve with the bean stew, with the plantain functioning almost as an eating utensil.

It was evident that everyone at the demonstration was delighted with our warm bowl of soup and sweet plantains. We sprinkled Gari, dried ground-up yucca, on top to add even more sustenance. The stew itself was starchy and was made up mostly of black-eyed peas and a tomato-y sauce. Scotch bonnet pepper combined with hot chili powder gave it a kick, but less than you’d expect. The heat rose through the belly, just as Chef Zoe intended. The red palm oil that she centered in the dish scares so many Americans because of its unhealthy reputation and its commonly poor labor practice in harvesting. However, it was not the terrible fat that is pumped into every processed food, it was earthy and flavorful and the sizable quantity added depth, not just oil. Adding red onions brought a shocking amount of sweetness while the tomatoes balanced with brightness. All in all, it was a hearty and satiating meal, bursting with complex flavors and heat. The plantains were prepared without any seasoning and yet still tasted magical (especially when topped off with okra salt).

I really loved getting to hear Chef Zoe speak in her London accent about the food world in New York and her goals for bringing African food to the mainstream food scene. I think that Dining Services is planning to bring in a vegan Olympian next so I will definitely be staying tuned for that!