Event Review : New York African Restaurant Week!

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November 18, 2013 By Saran Kaba

I like writing about an event when the excitement has died down and the loud buzz has slowly turned into a distant murmur, because it really gives everyone an opportunity to look back at the success of it and the impact it had on people who participated. In October, New York City saw its first ever New York African Restaurant Week (NYARW), and how exciting it was! When the brains behind the whole event, Akin Akinsanya told me about his vision a few months prior, I was both excited to see someone take on something so grand and skeptical at the thought of it actually coming together in such a short amount of time. But based on the work he’d been doing with his regular Panla, A Taste of Africa series, I knew that if anyone could do it, he could!

And boy was I right. The kickoff event, which was a food and wine tasting, took place on October 13th at the fabulous Taj Lounge in NYC. The place was full of people ready to experience the delicious art of some of the greatest NYC chefs specializing in African cuisine. From all parts of Africa, north to south, east to west, these Chefs really brought their A game. Of course, this was the one event where my fellow Africans were on time (just mention food and CPT, A.K.A Color People Time, no longer applies). It’s a good thing I don’t drink because by the time I got there, the apparently very delicious wine from House of Mandela Wines was already gone! Other restaurants/vendors present were:  Buka,  Jollof, Katra, La Caye, Les Ambassades, Le Souk Harem, Madiba, Ponty Bistro, Queen of Sheba, Shrine NYC, Toast 105, Bed Vyne Wine, Dining with Grace, and others.

My favorite? Chef Brian Hayford’s grilled chicken (Currently a chef at Toast 105). It was perfectly seasoned and mouth-watering. Honestly, the best chicken I have tasted in years (and everyone knows I am very picky about my chicken! I really dislike it when all the seasoning is on the surface but once you bite into it, bland…Chef Brian had clearly marinated his dish for just the right amount of time for the seasoning to blend in).

I loved meeting Chef Pierre Thiam from Jollof restaurant. I found him to be very humble for someone who has accomplished so much. When he took the stage to present his restaurant and food, I loved one thing he said: Jollof is originally from SENEGAL not Nigeria as most people think! It’s too bad I did not make it in time to taste all of his food but I definitely plan on checking out his restaurant.

I did not get a chance to taste Ponty Bistro’s food by Chef Cisse, but have had the pleasure of dining at his restaurant several times and I would recommend it to anyone. A super friendly Chef and staff and delicious food has always been my experience at Ponty.

The Custard and ground beef casserole sprinkled with almonds from Madiba Restaurant was delicious as well! And for dessert, my favorite was the mini strawberry shortcakes. I can’t remember the name of the vendor and haven’t been able to track down any information since but once I find out, I’ll let you know. I must confess: I had about 5 of them…in a row! My sisters literally had to peel me off the table. It took a lot of self-discipline for me not to go back for a 6th one.  In my defense, they were small (don’t judge). They were not too sweet and had a nice crunch to it (from the cookie the whipped cream rested on).

Can you tell I was hungry?

To crown the launch event, there was great music, a fun ambiance, lots of dancing (what better way to burn calories after all that eating?), and vendors selling African products: art, Shea butter (I got 2 jars from the Design by U stand) amongst other things.

In addition to this fabulous launch event, the week-long African cuisine and culture celebration featured prix-fixe lunch and dinner options at these select restaurants.

What’s more, a portion of the profits from NYARW benefited my twin sister’s and my very own organization Guinée Espoir, an organization dedicated to promoting youth development in Guinea, West Africa, and The Telem Center for the African Child, an organization providing children of African descent with recreational camping activities, cultural and educational programs that celebrate African heritage. Now who doesn’t love an event that gives back?

Hats off to Akin and his team who worked behind the scenes to make this event a success (special kudos to my twin sister, Sarata Kaba of Joli Papillon Events+Consulting, who lent her expertise even as she was in the midst of planning 2 other events for work! You rock). When in NY next, check out the terrific restaurants that participated in the event. And I have my fingers (and eyes) crossed that this will become an annual affair. Bravo!

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