A Chef Celebrating Ghanaian Culture Through Food
Why She's a Tastemaker: In less than two years since she's been back in Columbus (after a stint on the West Coast), the Ghana native and chef-owner of Asempe Kitchen has been sharing the wonders of West African cuisine at Wednesday pop-ups at The Hills Market Downtown and through cooking classes. (She's done 11 classes in the past six months.) Yomekpe traverses Columbus representing Ghanaian culture by teaching cooking classes and hosting workshops for institutions like The Seasoned Farmhouse and the city of Upper Arlington. Her Asempe rolls and stews will be available at the Worthington Farmers Market this summer.
Easing in to Ghanaian Cuisine: West African food is usually full of hot spices, with lamb and goat meat central to the dishes. Yomekpe preps her dishes so that the meats and spices can be added based on her customers' preferences. “I like to tell people that Ghanaian food is closest to Indian food. It's stewed, it's curried, it's a lot of vegetables. What we've done is take all those base recipes, remove the meat and remove the heat, and they can add it until they feel comfortable. We're making it accessible. We're inviting you to take a risk.” And despite our city's love of all things beef, Yomekpe thinks that Columbus is ready for vegan food. “Over the past year and a half, I've seen more and more people coming to Hills Market wanting [our] vegan options,” she says.
The sister cities: Accra, Ghana's capital, became a sister city to Columbus in 2015, and Yomekpe sees this as a reason to educate folks about Ghana. She says that Columbus is comfortable, and that access to jobs and affordable housing is a draw for immigrants. “We should want to learn more about our sister city,” she says. “And what better way to do that than with food and meeting the people who actually live in Columbus?”
Ordering in Fanti: Yomekpe makes ordering a learning experience, and encourages interaction with her customers. “We write everything in our local language and invite people to have a conversation with us, rather than order ‘No. 1' or ‘No. 2,'” she says. “It's written in Fanti with the English in brackets. We really want people to have a conversation with us.”
Looking to Put Down Roots: While the pop-up, teaching gigs and the occasional catering job are how she spends her time, Yomekpe wants to make Asempe Kitchen a full-time gig. In her ideal world, it will be a stand-alone restaurant with facilities for teaching. “We haven't been able to find anything permanent yet,” she says. “We're still gathering our clientele, but I'd like to find something soon.”