Chef Kuukua Yomekpe is a first-generation Ghanaian American who founded Asempe Kitchen, a Syracuse-based catering service and pop-up restaurant that offers traditional West African cuisine. Kuukua grew up in a household where food was often a focus and cooking for another was seen as an expression of love, she says in a video on Asempe Kitchen‘s website. She founded Asempe Kitchen with this sentiment. It aims to build community, communication, and cultural connections through experiencing enticing new food creations. Kuukua also offers demos and cooking classes for those curious about the world of West African cuisine, which includes menu items such as “Nkatsi Nkwan (Peanut soup—a marrying of curry and satay)” and “Red-Red (stewed black-eyed peas).”
Edible Finger Lakes: Could you please describe to us your favorite cooking creation?
I love plantains! I enjoy cooking them when they are in a mid-stage ripeness. Very yellow with only a few black splotches. At this point, it still holds some of its starchiness but has just the right amount of sweet not to be overwhelming. Plantains are also versatile and I love to introduce new palates to the many iterations of the wonderful vegetable.
EFL: What do you love most about your job?
What I love most is the interaction with eaters. I cook so I can see the joy in other’s faces as they enjoy the meal. Since I operate mainly as a pop-up community dining experience and catering, COVID has made it difficult to host any of the pop-up dinners. I hope when COVID finally gets under control we can begin these experiences again. I miss that.
EFL: Where do you work now and where have you worked in the past?
My day job is as an administrator at Le Moyne College, however, I mostly work for myself creating home dinners and pop-up experiences [as a] personal chef or [for] cooking demos.
EFL: Could you please name a few local food producers you work with now or have worked with in the past?
I buy most of my ingredients from the Syracuse Salina Street African Market. Traditional Ghanaian dishes don’t leave much room for actual produce, except perhaps in the purchase of onions or garden eggs. [I do use] white eggplants [which] I get from Fort Baptist Farm in Ithaca.
EFL: What’s on the top of your mind right now?
How can I find creative ways to stay engaged with the community given that I am unable to hold pop-up dinners.
EFL: Could you please describe your favorite cooking technique?
A lot of Ghanaian food involves quite a bit of simmering to get all the flavors to meld together to create the rich stews and soups.
Check out Kuukua’s Jollof Rice recipe!
Celebrating Local Chefs is a weekly column that aims to recognize the work, talent, and commitment Finger Lakes farm-to-table chefs have for their craft and supporting local farms and the community! If you know a chef we should interview, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. In February, we are focusing on the work of Black chefs in recognition of Black History Month.