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Chef selassie atadika 2018
Interviews

Selassie Atadika on new African cuisine

Dee Laffan speaks to the chef about the importance of celebrating African food - and embracing local produce.

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With a CV that boasts over a decade working in the United Nations and extensive experience in the culinary arts, Chef Selassie Atadika has turned her focus to her homeland of Ghana.

She’s on a mission to nurture African culture and cuisine, bringing it to a global audience and strengthening its popularity at home. In 2014 Selassie opened Midunu a food enterprise in Ghana. Its aim is to create experiences that encompass culture, community and cuisine. Offering a nomadic dining concept, Midunu uses local, seasonal ingredients to create what Selassie calls New African Cuisine. Last year, Selassie spoke at Food on the Edge in Galway, explaining her mission and what she sees for the future of food.

READ MORE: Chef Matt Stone is on a mission to make Australia more sustainable

Midunu Institute
Midunu Institute

On the role of food in her life

When we moved to the US in the early 1980s it was really hard for my mom to find some of the ingredients we had in Ghana so she would replicate these dishes. We ate at home all the time so that was our main connection to being Ghanaian. The food is what my siblings and I hold on to culturally.

The main dish for me is something called fufu and light soup. Whenever I visit my parents it’s the first dish my mom makes for me. It has a lot of fond memories and it’s interesting because when I’m in Ghana I don’t eat it often but I eat it when my mom makes it!

On working in the United Nations (UN)

I finished my undergrad and started working the United Nations. I did work in Kosovo and then did my masters in international affairs. After that, I went back to the UN and did a lot of work around the protection of children, then planning and responding to humanitarian disasters. I really got to learn about the role food plays in society and that’s when I took time out and did a short course at the Culinary School in the US.

READ MORE: Food On The Edge 2019: the best moments according to chefs


On her main focuses for Midunu

I have three priorities. The first is a tasting menu. For a long time I’d been avoiding having a restaurant but now people are interested in tasting my food so once a week we have a tasting menu.

My second priority is actually the institute that I’ve started and trying to extend this information and knowledge to Ghanaians. To start to create the demand and give pride and dignity back to our cuisine.

The third priority is sharing my line of chocolate truffles with the rest of the world. They’re made with coco and chocolate from Ghana and the spices and flavours and fruits that are unique to the different sub regions in the continent are reflected in the chocolates. Most people like chocolate but most people don’t now the spices and flavours of the continent so when you bring the two things together – one you know and one you don’t know – you find common ground where people can start the conversation.


On her plans for the Midunu Institute

The first part of the project is to focus on tubers. We eat a lot of starch and carbohydrates on the sub continent so what we’re trying to do is to find ways to rebalance the dishes. If this is an ingredient that’s found everywhere, how do we modify classic dishes to allow people to get a better nutritional balance from it?

We’ve also started a monthly series of talks and we’re trying to find ways to engage as many young people as possible. Once a month we’ll have really cool people that are working in food and agriculture.  

On the importance of thinking locally

It’s about using local with local. How do we eat local dishes with local ingredients? Using more beans, for example, so maybe then we don’t need the animal protein so the dishes becomes cheaper.

The other side of it is to find ways to meet the aspirations of as many people as possible without it being too expensive. People still want an aspirational experience otherwise it won't be sexy for young people.

On the future of Ghanaian food

I would like to see the adoption of some of our older principles but in a new format. In many ways, we are the most plant-forward continent so how do we make sure the people in rural areas maintain those habits but people in urban areas feel that is aspirational to move towards?

On Ireland’s culinary path

For me, it’s clear we’re all on similar journeys. Getting back into that local space and appreciation - in many ways it’s like the marketing speak: what is your unique selling point?  We need to understand that and that becomes your voice.

For more information on Midunu, go to Midunu.com.