Chefs Putting African Food On The Map In The U.S. Share Their Journey

Erika Goldring/Getty Images for ESSENCE

African culture is everywhere.

The music is hotter than ever before thanks to Afrobeats and Amapiano. The style and fashion influence can be seen far and wide. And movies from places like Nigeria and South Africa, known for their film industries, are all over Netflix.

But probably one of the most coveted aspects of the culture is the delicious fare. Aside from the comical jollof wars, food from the continent truly is making waves in the mainstream, including within the fine dining scene. So it made sense for us to gather some of the biggest names in both New Orleans and in the U.S. at large, making popular food from African countries, for a conversation at the Food and Wine activation at the 2024 ESSENCE Festival of Culture. They included Chef Eros, behind LA’s Nigerian restaurant Ilé, Prince Lobo of Addis Nola, bringing Ethiopian food to The Big Easy, and Serigne Mbaye, the recent winner of the 2024 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant for his NOLA hotspot, Dakar NOLA.

For Mbaye, who grew up in Harlem, he’d seen Senegalese food bring people together, but he wanted to see it elevated in the industry. “Early on, when I moved to New Orleans, I didn’t see African food at the fine dining level, and that was my motivation for everything,” he said. “Throughout the past 15 years of being in the industry, I knew that our people belong. In order for me to show that, I had to work in some of the top restaurants just to get the experience. That allowed me to get the knowledge, get the respect, and understand the business.” Dakar NOLA has been open 18 months and is already an award-winning establishment.

“As a kid growing up in New York and Harlem, I was born into the hospitality industry,” he said. I found myself spending a lot of time with my mom and being in the kitchen. So by me being in the…

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