Body Liberation for All
Body Liberation for All
Transcending Real-Life Barriers and Pursuing Your Passion | Episode 44

Transcending Real-Life Barriers and Pursuing Your Passion | Episode 44

Exploring West African Cuisine and Entrepreneurial Realness with Chef Kuukua of Asempke Kitchen

“When we break bread with others/strangers, we begin to cross boundaries, which in turn creates a bond that removes ‘Other’ from our lexicon even if momentarily.”

- Chef Kuukua Yomekpe

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe is a the founder of Asempke Kitchen a catering, pop-up, and Culinary Experience company that specializes in providing great plant-based options to traditional West African cuisine.

In this episode Chef Kuukua shares her entrepreneurial journey as a queer Black cis-woman living with an invisible disability.

This episode we explore:

🌈 Giving yourself permission to follow your joy

🌈 The impact of Anti-African and Anti-Black bias on building a business

🌈 LGBTQ life in Ghana

🌈 Managing chronic illness and a creative life

Episode Resources

Decolonizing Wellness: A QTBIPOC-Centered Guide to Escape the Diet Trap, Heal Your Self-Image, and Achieve Body Liberation

Connect with Chef Kuukua Yomekpe

Episode edited and produced by Unapologetic Amplified

This transcript was generated with the help of AI. Thank you to our supporting members for helping us improve accessibility and pay equitable wages for things like human transcription.

Have you ever wondered why almost all the health and wellness information you see out there is so white, cis able-bodied and het? I know I have. And as a queer black registered dietitian, I gotta tell you, I'm not into it. I believe health and happiness should be accessible to everyone. That is precisely why I wrote Decolonizing Wellness: A QTBIPOC-Centered Guide to Escape the Diet Trap, Heal Your Self-Image, and Achieve Body Liberation and why I host Body Liberation for All.

The road to health and happiness has a couple of extra steps for chronically stressed people, like queer folks and folks of color. But don't worry, my guests and I have got you covered. If you're ready to live the most fierce, liberated, and joyful version of your life, you are in the right place.

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Dalia Kinsey: Welcome back to body liberation for all. today's we're going to be talking about the vibrant world of African cuisine with a special guest. I'm super excited to have her on. I have been trying to explore things that I may have lost because of colonization and on that long list of things that we have lost is our connection to traditional foods and since presumably almost everybody who's of African descent in the US who descended from enslaved people came from somewhere on the west coast of Africa. I've basically been exploring cuisine from the entire west coast of Africa. But I'm still still a novice. So super excited to have Kuukua on today. And because we're going to have some visual references in this episode, I want you to know that you can check out the podcast on YouTube, along with a growing library of videos we're making for you, just like body liberation for all the mission is to promote the health and happiness of queer folks of color.

And. to try and help providers who want to be better hosts for us as well. So if that is something that you would like to tap into, do not forget to subscribe. And if you want to see some of the things we're talking about in this episode, be sure to check out the YouTube video. So welcome to the show, Kuukua.

How are you doing?

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: I'm doing well. I have had quite an exciting couple of days. I was in Florida. It was nice and very hot. And came back yesterday and it's about 50 something up here. Central New York, finally. Other than that, I mean...

Dalia Kinsey: So, you've been doing a good bit of travel, because we met recently at NGLCC, which is the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, essentially.

And you can tell from the name that it's been around for a while, because the name doesn't really sound like it's including... all of the rainbow. But that's just because it's been around for a while, but it was really exciting to be in a place with so many entrepreneurs, so many queer entrepreneurs. But I was a little surprised at how little focus there was in the content on passion.

My assumption was that a lot of us start our businesses because there's something we're passionate about that we want to share with others. But it really had more of a large business focus, which generally in capitalism, big businesses exist. To make money. There was a need in the market and they seized it.

It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with passion, but when you were talking about what you do, it clearly started with passion. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to the United States even and then becoming a self trained chef. I'm so impressed by all self trained everything because it's obviously a legitimate way to build skills.

But it's something that I think a lot of us are afraid to even attempt because maybe we've been a little held back by public schooling or traditional schooling kind of leaves you feeling like you can’t do anything without a guide.

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: To join my mother and her brother who was doing a PhD at Ohio state. And so my mom is an RN, retired RN. And so she was at Mon Carmel in Columbus, Ohio. So that's how we ended up in the US. She had been living away from us since I was four. And so I'd been raised by my grandmother, her mother. So came to the U S when we first came, I realized my mom was making friends, mostly.

Through her nursing colleagues and some other immigrants who were either nurses or in home health. And so she spent quite a bit of time with them, you know, sometimes on the weekends, but not always. But definitely at Thanksgiving and at Christmas and any other major holiday like Labor Day. cooking African, you know, Filipino, Ethiopian, you name it.

We had all the different dishes in the house. And so that kind of sparked my interest in feeding other people because I wasn't trained. I didn't go to school for that, you know, because as an immigrant daughter, you went to school to become a doctor or a nurse or a lawyer or even better if you went into banking, right?

So I got interested in cooking for others and feeding others through all those different potlucks that we were holding. And eventually people started asking us for catering. And so my mom and I got an extra stove and put it in the garage, which was probably illegal. But we did it and started cooking for catering.

Nothing big, you know, like people who were going abroad and wanted to have like a little fundraiser, people who were taking their students to Ghana, who wanted the students to get a taste. So I did a little bit of that and then I moved out to Indiana to work for Notre Dame. So once I got there, I got sort of, I infiltrated the black community.

So there was a lot of students of color who had very little knowledge of Africa. And so I cooked every weekend and had them over in my apartment because I lived in in the dorm. And so that's how that part got started. I left Indiana to California to do my second master's. And while I was there, I started catering, paying for my rent through little side job and then cooking classes.

So that's how it all started, you know, just slowly, slowly building. And then seven years ago, I decided I was leaving higher ed. I'd worked in higher ed about 25 years, and I was going to start my own business. I did it for two years, full time, mostly on loans and credit cards. And then I fell. So I had an accident and while I was carrying some pot.

and could not walk for three months. So I had to put the business on hold, went back to higher ed, and that's how come I ended up in New York in central New York. So it's been a journey of, you know, getting to this point of doing it full time and legally, like being an LLC actually about to convert into an S 4.

So it's, you know, it's kind of through its iteration, and we came to the U. S. in 1996. So it's I think about 27 years of just playing with the idea, going into higher ed, teaching, doing the things that were sort of respectable by the immigrant parent standards, right? And then finally going, this is what I really want to do is work for myself.

And I want to work for myself, feeding people. And that's, that's really where my passion is. It's like, if someone says, thank you, that was the best meal I've had. Thank you. That was so comforting. My job is done, you know, so I feel so good. Oh yeah, that's been my journey. Well, what did your

Dalia Kinsey: parents say or what did, I don't know if there was one parent who's more focused on their vision for what you should do professionally in the States, since you did give their path a chance.

Were they more on board when you said, you know, I'm clearly a full grown person, and now I realized I want to do something different. Did they just say, all right, well, we

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: support you. So my dad passed 20 years ago, actually, 2003 August. So he's been gone a while. And so he never really got a chance to, you know, be a part of our life in the U.

S. He lived in Ghana and never came to the U. S. So. Mostly it's been my mom and she has been focused on the pension, right? So as a, as a registered nurse, she had a pension and she's getting social security, um, and is able to live a pretty decent. You know, life in her older age because she has those amenities, right?

And so that's her biggest problem is like, what are you gonna do when you cannot lift the pot anymore, right? Whatcha gonna do, where's your retirement coming from? So she stresses about that a lot. And you know, every now and then when things aren't going so well, she's like, are you gonna return to higher ed

I'm like, no. So, you know, I think for her it's. It's really about survival after. I can't do what I'm doing. You know, right.

Dalia Kinsey: And that, that's a real, that's the tricky thing, especially when the people that came before us put pressure on us, that's based in a desire to protect us. But we know that maybe our circumstances are a little But the pension thing even weighs on me.

Some in most positions, you know, pension doesn't even exist anymore, but in education and in a lot of government funded jobs, the pensions are as they have been for years and years. So that, that is something that I think about when I say, I want to go all in with my business. Where did you find the clarity?

to remain faithful to what gives you joy.

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: I can't say I have complete clarity though. I think what has been really helpful and continues to be is that I'm partnered to an amazing woman and she has a full time job. And so we've kind of traded off. So I had kept my higher ed job until two years ago.

When I went full time. So October 15th, 20, whatever, 21, um, I, I quit and I went full time business. It was really a rough start because COVID was still in existence. Food gatherings were not a thing, you know, we're not back yet. pEople are doing catering or takeouts. And so I, I got into that. But it's been really a blessing to have her by my side because.

Knowing that mortgage is paid and homeowners association is paid and some credit cards are covered and I will never go hungry because she continues to work makes it easier to kind of run along, you know, and do my, my thing, my passion thing. I think it would have been rougher and I would have borrowed for money.

At this point I don't have any loans, either from the government or from any bank. So I've been running on my cash flow, which is not enormous, but it kind of keeps me going enough that I haven't borrowed anything. And I think a big, a big chunk of that is, is related to her support and being able to just

Yeah. Yeah.

Dalia Kinsey: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I was in a coaching program a couple of years ago that was for BIPOC creatives and entrepreneurs. And they talked about safety being crucial to giving you the freedom to explore your passions. And it's something that if you're from a working class family,

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: a lot of

Dalia Kinsey: us just.

have to build that sense of safety. And we have to acknowledge that's something we have to take out the time to create. So a lot of blockages that I kept hearing people in that cohort talk about they blame themselves for Like, Oh, I don't believe enough or I, I'm, my mind sets off and I'm not willing to go all in, but safety was an issue, whether it was financial safety or some other fear of being verbally abused or something, because you pursued your passion, which you would think that food should be neutral.

It's something we all need to live, but it absolutely isn't neutral. can be really politicized. We hear a lot about European cuisine,

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: but it's very rare

Dalia Kinsey: that we see African cuisine featured. And I would think that maybe you've gotten pushback about your choice of cuisine. Have you experienced that? Or what is your interaction?

With the

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: market been like it has dependent on where I was. So with being in initially in Ohio, we had a good following. We focused on doing traditional meat. So go and lamb. We did chicken occasionally, but not always. And then we offered three vegetarian. Ohio was rough because there were, I think, Whoa.

There were then about six or eight Ethiopian restaurants. There were a couple Ghanaian restaurants and other like Senegalese and such. We were very much working to appeal to the non African. And so the people who were interested and wanted to explore the cuisine. But weren't sure how to access them, especially since some of the neighborhoods were not the best parts of town.

And so your average white American was not going to enter those neighborhoods not knowing what they were going to do, right? Or what they were getting themselves into. So we were downtown at a deli that was pretty frequent, you know, frequented by a lot. It was diverse, but most of our customers ended up being Caucasian customers.

We did not we weren't able to move forward in, in Columbus, mostly because we weren't we weren't able to get our own space and a result of that was people's attitudes towards African food. So a lot of people who were approaching for space were like. This is the stuff you find on M. L. K. Boulevard, which everybody knows M.

L. K. Boulevard is where the Blacks are, right? No matter where you are in the city, that street has been renamed, you know that's where the brown folks are, right? So in their head, even one person said, We're not sure the kind of people you're going to attract. Right. And I called him out on it and he was like, Oh, that way, you know, blah, blah, blah.

 And so it was really, really sad that we kept being met with roadblocks after roadblock. wE also tried out for a food hall. Which, in retrospect, was definitely not my, my passion and not where I wanted to go, but in, in the moment it felt like we needed a space to get our, our name out, to get the word out, and to be in a central location.

where we were, we were able to reach a different crowd of people than our own other African people who, for the most part, aren't eating out, right? So most of us know how to cook. So we, we cook at home. If we eat out, we eat out the grilled tilapia or the thing that we can't do at home. So that's also sort of the downside.

Like we're not feeding Africans because they're cooking their own stuff, right? so We, we, we were met with different at different points, but with different roadblocks. We have done well in Ithaca, I think, because the population is diverse. It's well traveled. I cannot tell you how many people I've met who have been to Ghana, been to Senegal, Togo, Benin.

So there's well traveled, they're well traveled. They are. Very curious people and they are very accepting. And so we've done really well here and are contemplating our own space. Possibly it's gonna happen. I think the curiosity is there here, whereas we didn't have it the last two places where we've been, and that has prevented us from moving forward and, and becoming our own little space downtown or, you know what I mean?

Yeah, that's really

Dalia Kinsey: interesting. I think with a lot of things, sometimes you can think, Oh, maybe my idea just won't work. But what if it's just the wrong place? You know, yeah, that's a pretty important lesson. Well, we, so you mentioned a lot of different countries. Now, does your,

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: so the name of your

Dalia Kinsey: business is Asemp,

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: I'll let you say it.

Asempet Kitchen. So Asempet means curiosity in my language, which is fancy, which is from Ghana, West Africa. So it's not a language that's spoken anywhere else on the West Coast. Unlike Hausa or, you know, Igbo or, you know, other languages, Swahili, for example, is spoken in a few countries Fenti is very, very, you know, central to.

The central region of Ghana. Hmm. So that's one

Dalia Kinsey: of the unaffected languages by colonization. Like, that was a language that was already there. Oh, how exciting!

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: Is that your only other language? No, I speak Ga which is also coastal south, south Ghana, southern Ghana, but very central, centralized not spoken throughout the country as much.

And then tree, and tree is kind of like our language that binds all people. So just about your average person on the street speaks tree because it's kind of like, it's not the patois because we do have our own like mix mix English and tree and, you know, some other words in there which right now I'm blanking on pigeon, so pigeon is what it's so we do have that, but I speak Fenti and Gaa, which are very, like, localized, and then Trio, which is kind of, like, most people can understand it.

And even if they don't speak it well, they can get it, get by. So while

Dalia Kinsey: you were living in Ghana, were you eating cuisine from neighboring countries? Or, like you mentioned, you said, most people from Africa, in your experience. know how to cook. So what was eating out like? Was that for special occasions or for when

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: you were traveling?

So eating out really only happened for like graduation or birthdays or any, you know, big events confirmation, those kinds of things. And we would eat out in a probably a traditional Ghanaian restaurant, but it would have spaghetti, which is technically not Ghanaian. And we could get meat pies, which are kind of like turnovers or empanadas.

We could get grilled chicken. So we get things that we wouldn't cook at home, like the grilled tilapia roasted chicken, those kinds of things we would not cook at home. So if we ate out, that's where we would go. I didn't have Indian, I didn't have Mexican, I didn't have any of those other cuisines until I came to the U.

S. Now, however, that is a different story altogether, right? So globalization has burst on the scene. You can find just about any cuisine in Ghana that you desire. I don't know how authentic they are or how good the food is because I didn't. I didn't do a whole lot of eating out when I was home this past March.

My mom lives in a relatively oh, I wouldn't call it the ghetto, but it's it's definitely You know, not the best part of town. Oh, she decided to move back. She did. Yeah. So she moved back three years ago. She's coming up in, in a month for a few months and then she'll be back. She'll be going back. Oh, but she lives where my grandmother bought housing, which when she bought was a really nice neighborhood and has kind of gone downhill since then.

 She's, she's done renovations. She's put up an electric fence. which has its own issues, right? So it's like we're creating our own little bubble inside of this, and when I go home I have all these issues, like, you know, but that's another story. But anyway, so when we're, when we were home in March, she has found a caterer who does all her cooking.

So my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson's and so has not been cooking much because she was shaky on her left side. And so this woman did all our cooking while we were there, which created a sort of ease for us because we didn't really cook while we were home, which is rare for me because when I get home, I want to cook because now I have access to ingredients I don't have in the U.

S. So I want to try my hand at things that I couldn't do here. But I didn't do any cooking. I think I boiled an egg and I have been the extent of my cooking when I was in Ghana in March. But that, you know, that's because now we have our own, you know, personal caterer, thanks to mom. But for the most part, I would have been more adventurous if I didn't have that.

you know, meals prepared for me. I would have gone out and eaten Indian and eaten, you know, Senegalese and eaten, um, you know, whatever else was available. But we didn't do a whole lot of eating out because of, you know, having food catered. Yeah.

Dalia Kinsey: Well, I see a part of your business is also educating people on how they can create these dishes at home.

What are some of the main things that you focus on in classes that would help people kind of get their feet wet with Ghanaian

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: cuisine? So most of the stuff that I teach cooking lessons on. are things you can easily acquire. So I try not to teach on things that you cannot find you know, snails or, you know, stuff that we use at home, crab, the small red crab, not the big dungeness crab that everybody's so excited about um, And, and snails, and like guinea fowl, and you know um, just forest meat, right?

So those are things that are not easily accessible, for example. So I would, I would teach on peanut stew, because peanut is readily available. You can put in any kinds of veggies that are available to you. You can put in any kind of meat that you would like. I also teach on red red, which is black eyed peas with plantains.

Those are easy, easy to find. Black eyed peas just, just about any grocery store should have them in the bean section. wE use olive oil instead of red, red palm oil because There isn't a a sustainable way to harvest right now. I found something at Wegmans, which is kind of like our Whole Foods here in Ithaca.

But it's like this big for 10 because it's sustainably harvested. And I support it when I have to, but on a regular, I prefer to cook with olive oil because it's more accessible to the average person. Is there a big taste difference there? There is a big taste difference. So, when I can, I offer it to them as a garnish.

So I would buy it from Wegmans, and then I would give them maybe like a tablespoon of it to kind of put over the top of their sauce, whatever they've just cooked. thAt initially requires palm oil. So like contumere, for example, requires palm oil, which is our spinach dish. And technically the spinach dish is taro leaves.

It's not, it's not spinach, like the baby spinach we have in the U S it's taro leaves, which I cannot acquire unless I ship, um, or get it from a wholesaler, which have not cooking that, you know, that large of a quantity to make it worth, worth the shipping. We cook okra, which is also readily, you know, available.

Not fresh. Because most Americans are quite squeamish about slimy food. And so I get the frozen version, which makes it less likely to get slimy because by the time you're done cooking. You have not extracted all of the slime from it. Oh, okay. So I love, I love the, we call it ma. I love that, that look and that feel and that taste that comes with the okra when it's fresh and finely chopped.

And that's my dad's ethnic group. That's our traditional dish. And I love it, but I only offer it to those who are like, yeah, bring on the Oprah. But like the average person is like, I'm not so sure about this. So the traditional

Dalia Kinsey: dish has more of that like mucilaginous texture. I know that's good for you.

But I never thought of it as like a universally American thing that we might be weird about slimy foods.

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: But yeah, that sounds pretty accurate. Yeah. So we'll do okra. We'll do red bread, which is the black eyed peas. We'll do, I do spinach sometimes. And I explain to them where they can get the taro leaves if they want.

Sometimes the Chinese markets will have them, Asian markets. And sometimes you can order it online and then we have something called a goosey which goes in with the spinach and then that becomes a goosey stew. So a whole nother dish. A goosey can be found online. It's super expensive, but it's also available.

What else do I cook? I cook a leecha, which is actually an Ethiopian dish that my mom taught me. So mom. lived in Ethiopia for her nursing school. Her dad used to be an ambassador and so they grew up in Ethiopia. And so she, she cooks Ethiopian foods and taught me a couple of them. So I cook Elicha, which is easy.

It's cabbage, potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, and red onions, um, in a curry, curry base. So yeah, those are probably the basic things I teach. I'll teach more traditional things when people come home. If I have a lesson at home for three or less people, one to three people, and because I can control that a lot better than a group of 12 or 15, I can do the more expensive ingredients because I don't have to buy a lot of them and I can show them.

If they're curious, different. Yeah.

Dalia Kinsey: Oh, that sounds so cool.

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: I

Dalia Kinsey: now offer inclusive wellness solutions for individuals and organizations. If you like myself believe that health and happiness should be accessible to everyone, and you're looking for someone to help you make your programs more inclusive, or you're looking for an inclusive wellness specialist to come in with solutions tailored to your team's needs, then visit daliakinsey.

com. The link is in the show notes. to learn more about how we can work together.

You mentioned when you were in Ohio that you were connecting to a lot of the Black American students there that were really curious about African cuisine. Have you seen? How meaningful it can be for people to connect to food that it's not exactly the same at all. But we do see a lot of parallels in African American cuisine.

You can tell that the people who first

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: created these dishes

Dalia Kinsey: came from West Africa because people found similar produce. To recreate comfort dishes from home. Like what have you noticed in those clients? Like how meaningful a class with

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: you can be. So, unfortunately, here in Ithaca, I don't, I can probably count on one hand all seven years how many African American folks have actually, like, approached me to do a class.

So they might try the food. What was the strange. No, no, no, Indiana. So those were my students at Notre Dame. So there was a very controlled group. I think they were just curious and learning more. But Ohio, I probably had one or two that I recall. And here, even in Ithaca, I'll get a couple students from Cornell.

But they are African. I rarely get African Americans or black Americans, depending on, you know, how you want to identify approaching me for a class or a lesson, you know, so that's fascinating. Yeah, because we, we always think about um, what do we, what can we do differently to outreach to. siblings that don't identify as African or Afro Caribbean.

 What are we not doing? How are we marketing? How can we work it differently? Do we just cut our losses and be like, okay, we're here. If you want, you can try us. If not, you know, that is

Dalia Kinsey: really curious. I wonder with so many things with business, because. At least in the U. S. anyway, every resource you read is focusing on the white consumer.

So you don't find a lot of information about how to really reach. A black American audience. And then on the rare occasions that you do, it's usually so offensive that you're like,

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: if this is true, I don't want to use it or believe it. Like I read something horrible.

Dalia Kinsey: It was one of those things where like something gets published that was originally internal in a company.

And it basically

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: was saying, Oh, you can give this demographic. A product of any level of

Dalia Kinsey: quality, meaning save all the money you want, give them the cheapest thing, charge a markup that they don't have a lot of options because of transportation and what parts of town they're in. And all you have to do is be personable.

It was. Like they're in writing that you just have to be kind of nice and there tends to be a lot of loyalty in this demographic. Once you get them in, unless something really bad happens there, people are going to just keep coming back. Yeah. And I would hate to, I hate to believe that, but I also know the town that I work in during the day, that seems to be true, like a lot of people are paying over what is a normal fee for things in their neighborhoods.

And if I'll go shopping or run an errand on a lunch break, I'm like, this isn't happening. I'm going to go shopping when I go back home. It seems like businesses are booming and they don't really seem to be doing that much for their customers.

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: And

Dalia Kinsey: then at the same time, we're obviously not a monolith. So it's like, how do we market to such an extremely diverse

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: group of people?

I think, I mean, what I have struggled with And I also hate to believe it's true is that we are not a curious people. Even my own Africans right now come to my stall and are very upset that I don't do meat anymore, right? So now we're solely plant based mostly because meat is expensive and meat requires more astringent, astringent?

Yeah, astringent, I think. I was an English major and I'm always concerned about using the right word. More just, Just more particular storage and, and cooking and temping and that kind of stuff. Okay. And also because I believe that plant based allows everybody to access it. So even if you wanted meat, you could go home and put the meat in it and, and still enjoy it, right?

But if I put meat in it, the person who only eats plant based cannot pull it out. So that's been my journey the last five years of just focusing on plant based and using vegetables. In, in the stews, like the peanut stew, for example, has cabbage and sweet potatoes and, and those kinds of things.

Sometimes, not at market, because market is like, farmer's market is, it's such a quick turnaround. Like, we pay for the kitchen we're in, and so we're in and we're out. And it just has to be a very quick, you know, efficient way of doing things. And so we don't get to like, Boiled potatoes and chop them up and put them in and all the things that we could do when we have a smaller class or a lesson that I, I like to do, like I put sweet plantain in the, the peanut stew, if we're home and we have access to it, you know?

So, there's lots of diversity of vegetables when we're able to do, do that. At market is completely a difference. You know, a different

Dalia Kinsey: beast. I a connection there. Like, I wonder if curiosity goes down as stress levels go up or something, because otherwise I can't. Just off the top of my head, understand why that might be so, but I will say I was literally complaining about that to a coworker before this

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: call because someone had mentioned

Dalia Kinsey: my mom is not American.

I mean, she's a naturalized citizen, but she, her food culture is still that of her parents, which was Jamaican and Cuban. And so there are a lot of Southern dishes. I'm not. familiar with. Maybe I've seen them before, but never eaten them or I don't know how to make them. And the people in the office were making a big deal out of me, not having tried some Southern dish.

But then when I tried to explain, well, you know, that's really not the food culture of the house I was

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: raised in. And no one was really interested

Dalia Kinsey: in hearing. what that might have

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: been. And I

Dalia Kinsey: find that's a pattern. And then I wonder how much information are they missing out on? Because they seem pretty insular, like very into their own experience and not into learning about other people's experiences.

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: I, I don't know if that's part of the trauma that it is to

Dalia Kinsey: be melanated and in the United States. Is that where the curiosity went? I find it strange, but my grandmother always said that curious people are the happiest. Life is long. You think it's short? Until you get older and you're like, Oh,

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: it's still going.

As you said, if you're not interested in learning new things, like, what are you going to do with all this time? Absolutely. Yeah. I, I wonder that too, is, is it really just the inability to consider anything outside of your comfort zone? Right. Cause I mean, there are people who will stop by and think we're Jamaican.

And we'll want to have Jamaican food, which is fascinating because I feel like Jamaican food is, is also different, but it's probably closer because, you know, rice and beans and chicken and plantain and um, but you know, it's, it's different because there's ackee and saltfish and there are things that I think are just as different as African cuisine is.

So I find it really fascinating and it's mind boggling that I cannot get my own, you know, siblings to try the food. When I'm, I'm so passionate about sharing this with everybody, you know. That

Dalia Kinsey: is so relatable and a little heartbreaking.

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: If you have a breakthrough and you're like, Oh, I

Dalia Kinsey: did this thing. And they're like, Oh, the black people started coming in.

You have to let me know

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: because I feel like I am crystal clear on who I want to serve.

Dalia Kinsey: But if I'm honest. 90 percent of my business is not coming from my imagined target.

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: And so I'm like,

Dalia Kinsey: at what point do you just say, okay, well, the market has showed me who really wants to work with me. And I doubled down or.

You know, well, I know I'm not going to do that, but I sometimes wonder like, is that the more sensible thing to do? But I'm letting my passion lead and I feel like at some point I'm going to figure out what, what are the barriers? I

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: think there's probably barriers

Dalia Kinsey: there that I just haven't fully understood yet.

Maybe. I

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: don't know. I'll report back if I

Dalia Kinsey: figure anything out because I am fascinated by learning about anything that has to do with the continent and I thought that that was a very common black American

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: thing, but maybe not. I don't think so. I think there are vestiges of the African booty scratcher for lack of a better term concept, right, that are still in people's minds.

There is definitely more of a movement towards accepting Africa, and a lot of Black Americans I know have moved back home, like a good chunk of my friends when I was in Ghana, when I was living in Ghana, ten years ago. We're African Americans that had moved there. And friends who had, who were Ghanaian that had lived abroad and had come back.

Dalia Kinsey: For half a second, didn't Ghana threaten to take us back? I remember, I don't know if this was in the 90s or something, but it was It was a popular thing. I don't know how accurate it was. You know how they take small clips of the news and this was pre internet, but I remember hearing that some announcement had been made by somebody official in Ghana that like, come on back home.

Like we've got the visas for you. If you want to come back, you don't have to prove that this is exactly where you're from, but you can come on back and like start your life here. And then I wondered,

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: like, what happened to that? So, actually, year of return might have been three years ago now. So, it's recent.

So, you might have heard that in the 90s as well. But more recently, they're actually granting visas and citizenship to African Americans, I think and Jamaicans. So you can return by land. Get started on a business if that's what you want to do, find a job. I'm not saying it's going to be easy because it's a very different culture.

And at least from my experience of the black Americans I was hanging out with, it was not easy because it was a big culture shock. Things were a lot slower. Things are sadly based on bribes. And so people do things for you that they should do normally as part of their job description, but only after you buy them lunch or you buy them dinner or give them something for their taxi fare or, you know, whatever they want to frame it as, right?

Right. So a big, a big part of the culture is, is based on. On that quid pro quo, right? I don't know what I'm, what the word is. But anyway, the culture is, is based on that. And so for them, it was a big shock, like to go to the passport office and wait in line for four hours because somebody took a two hour lunch break or, you know, so there's things that don't work for the system here and would never fly.

that kind of go unnoticed or unquestioned in Ghana. And so it was a big culture shock because you don't just go get your permit and build your land. You go and you visit the chief and you tell the chief why you want to build land and the chief gets a cut and the chief's assistant gets a cut. And you know, it's just, It's very convoluted.

And I think coming home and expecting, coming to Ghana and expecting that things are going to be pretty straightforward and pretty like the U. S. is, is a, you know, misconception. And so I saw that in, in their faces a lot of the time. Oh my God, I can't believe I spent four hours. wherever, you know, fill in the blank.

And I still didn't get anything done and I bought somebody lunch, you know, so it's really rough. So yeah, the gates are open, come on over, but it's a big culture shock and, you know, people need to be what, like they need to reframe their, their mindset when they're walking in the door, because it's definitely not the U S it may be globalized, like everybody's wearing cutoff jeans or torn up pants or, you know, whatever you see here in the U S the music is similar.

R and B and hip hop, and we have our own hip life and, you know, we have our own music as well. But a lot of things are globalized, but the culture, like the very sort of the, the mainline culture is still very laid back and very, yeah, that almost

Dalia Kinsey: definitely takes some getting used to it.

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: Yeah. Yeah. The

Dalia Kinsey: pace.

Well, what is queer acceptance like in Ghana? Like, is there marriage equality?

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: No. So there's actually a law on the books that they're hoping to pass that says you can turn your neighbor in. So we are going back to the 40s and 50s in the U. S. Mostly as a result of Christianity and a result of the megachurches in the U.

S. that are influencing things. the smaller churches in Ghana. So the law honestly don't know where it's at. A friend of mine, Carolyn, works for um, an LGBT organization that sends out grants to other LGBT small businesses. And so she was the one who was keeping me abreast with the law. That was trying to go into effect, but I don't know where it's at.

I know that a few, maybe a year ago when I went in March, the LGBT Center had just been raided. People had been put in jail and some people had been hurt. I think there's a vibrant movement in Ghana of LGBT folks, but there's also people who are very scared. And... unwilling to come out and be part of the community because they don't want to lose your jobs or housing or you know, whatever.

 Like my mom won't tell anybody about us and it's really sad. Like she doesn't even have us on her mantle in the living room because she doesn't want to have to explain that to anybody. aNd you know, she said to me a couple of times, you know, The neighbor down the road just went to jail. And I don't know if it's the same neighbor or if it's a different neighbor, but she's like, I don't want that to happen to you, especially when you're just visiting, you know?

Yeah. So she won't tell anybody. Which is really sad, you know, because she doesn't get to rejoice in her oldest child being in a pretty solid, healthy relationship, you know? Right. So that is kind of sad. I'm sad for her, you know, not be able to rejoice in that. But

Dalia Kinsey: it wasn't difficult for her to be affirming.

She's just aware of the political

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: environment. I think it was difficult in the beginning. So I came out at 26 or 20, yeah, somewhere in that vicinity. And a lot of it was. Was trial and error, mostly with my best friend who at the time was, we were both in grad school in different, different cities.

And so she and I were hanging out and experimenting and my mom found us one day. And she was mortified. And so that was her journey in that drug. I ended up dating a guy who tragically passed in a motorcycle accident. And I think after that accident, mom thought it was a reaction to that, you know, the accident that I was going back to women.

But I've been with my partner for five years and I feel like at this point she's like, okay, maybe you're not going back to men. And it's okay, you know, so it's, she's had her own journey as well and I think has been, you know, over the years has been working it out working it through. Right. She belongs to a church now that is not accepting and so she will not tell them either.

Yeah, so. A little bit of that, there's, you know, there's a little bit of sadness around, around the high days, but it's really her, her choice and her life, you know, that's the way I look at it.

Dalia Kinsey: Yeah, yeah, family can be. It's

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: just complicated sometimes. Yeah.

Dalia Kinsey: Well, tell me about your journey as an entrepreneur navigating chronic illness.

I wanted to cover that for a little bit because you mentioned we had a little bit of back and forth getting this on the books and you had mentioned that you have MS. So how long have you known that you have it and how does that affect your relationship with such a physical

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: job? I, so with the MS situation, which I call it a situation because I was diagnosed five years ago, and then I was told that the case was complicated and I didn't check all the, The tests weren't positive in the right direction, and so I didn't have it.

And then I had it again by another doctor. So it's just been back and forth, back and forth. Symptoms are there, everything that is in the book, in the textbook is there. But we haven't been able to get a confirmed diagnosis, and so I haven't been able to start treatment. Because with the healthcare system the way it is, They want the doctor to check all the different boxes before they will actually start treatment.

I've been living with pain and just, you know, losing memory and all kinds of other little things that are not so little in when you put them all together, you know? So that's, that's been rough. It's hard some mornings because I cannot get out of bed. And get moving and I have to start market around 4 a.

m. Like, I have to start preparing for market around 4 a. m. So, you know, some days are really difficult and I also worry about the end game. You know, like my mom worries about me and my retirement. Like, when does it get to the point where I can't function anymore? And when do I? Give it up. And what do I do when I, you know, yeah.

So I do think about that a lot. And you know, talking about chronic illness. I also suffer from bipolar disorder. So it's It's really a mix of the two things and just trying to figure out how best to live life and to still rejoice in life and to still move and wake up and want to do what I really want to do, which, which is cook and feed people when my body is like, nope, not today.

So it's, it's quite challenging, especially when it's, invisible, you know, it's just like most people see me and there's just this bright, wonderful person that they see, they don't realize how many, I always tell people, do you know the spoon analogy? Like how many? Yeah, so they don't realize how many spoons it takes to get to that wonderful person that they meet at the conference or, you know um, wherever, for example.

But yeah, invisible disability is, is huge for me. I love, love to talk about how to support other creatives who are going through that. And also I don't mind talking about it because I feel like the more we talk about it the less stigma there is and the less people who are in the closet about it, about chronic illness or invisible disability are able to feel more accepted and open.


Dalia Kinsey: absolutely. Yeah. Well, what are some of the lessons that you've learned about hanging on to that joy, like you said, and not feeling like your body is an enemy because it's still your best ally, even when it doesn't do what you know we want

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: it to do. Yeah. So, I think for me what brings me the most joy is is feeding people, but feeding my partner, for example, because she loves everything I cook, and I could be on my worst day and still fix something.

She's like, Oh, honey, this is so good. Babe, this is amazing, you know? And so it, it just brings me so much joy, yes, but also like encouragement to keep moving, you know? Because I know that she is always there and she will always be there to support and to like encourage and just be like, okay, it's time to get up, especially in the winter when it's really hard up north.

And the depression just kind of feels like it's never gonna end. Right. So she is very supportive in, in helping me. work out the days when my spoons are just not, you know, non existent. Right. I depleted completely. So she is, she is a rock star. She is one of the most important people in my life.

And so she gives me the encouragement, the joy, and you know, the wherewithal to keep going. Yeah. Yeah. What would you tell other

Dalia Kinsey: people, like what they should know about being more supportive of people living with invisible disabilities? Because I do find. Especially in more liberation focused spaces.

People want to stop letting capitalism just destroy our bodies and the bodies of everybody on our team. But then they also feel that pressure to never stop working. But with some people, if they try to make themselves do that, then they're completely incapacitated for weeks at a time. So what would you tell somebody trying to figure out How to be a better ally to people who are not fully able bodied or who, you know, don't have chronic illnesses.


Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: I think being an ally to anybody or any any group of people that you're not a part of is a lot of work. And I think that most people don't get into it knowing how much Right. They just think, Oh, it's just not talking bad about black people or not touching their hair or, you know, whatever your baseline is.

Right. I think a lot of folks think that's the first step and maybe that is the first step, but most people don't know that there's more to that and you go deeper and deeper. And when we're not in a room, you stand up for us. Right. So that's the next step, perhaps. And then using your own body as a block, for example, if you're in a situation where you need to do that, right?

But I think being an ally requires more work than most people are aware of or able to provide. And so the challenge is knowing yourself and knowing what you're capable of doing, I think. So working hard to, to teach yourself about the illness or teach yourself, like my partner, for example, like when we first got together, she was so scared.

It's like, Oh my God, it's night and day. This person that I know, I turned into this other person and I'm like, it's the same person, honest to goodness. Right. But there's a lot of education that went into building this relationship, you know, and going to therapy and talking about it and me journaling and sharing the journal with her.

So I think it requires definitely some education, pushing yourself beyond your own comfort zone. And also not, not not always like speaking for us. Like there are moments where you can do that and you're required and you're called on to, to be an advocate. But I think we know the best story of our lives.

And so you not speaking for us is one big lesson to learn as well. You know? Yeah. Yeah, that makes

Dalia Kinsey: a lot of sense. Yeah. And I think it is probably beyond our comprehension sometimes how much different

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: lived experiences change your

Dalia Kinsey: needs and you don't have a way of anticipating it. You really have to hear it from somebody who's been walking that

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: path.

And I have, I have Graves disease, which is. Of the autoimmune disorders

Dalia Kinsey: I could have, I would say, you know, it's not that bad. But when I'm in a flare, the fatigue can be

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: so bad.

Dalia Kinsey: It gets boring, honestly, waiting to get better. And so the temptation is to become productive again, which everybody around you reinforces.

Because they're like, Oh yeah, you've got to get out of bed because if you just lay there, you're not going to get better. Depending on what you have. If you get up, then you're not going to get better. Like

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: sometimes you actually just have to lay there. Lay there. Yeah.

Dalia Kinsey: So it's, it's interesting. I think this is another area where a lot of us need more exposure.

So thank you for being visible and sharing the bipolar diagnosis, because I think it's way more common than a lot of people realize, but a lot of people just don't feel safe enough to

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: disclose.

Dalia Kinsey: Yeah, probably based on a lot of bad experiences, not just something you read about. Right, yeah.

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: Well,

Dalia Kinsey: can you tell everybody where we can find

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: you?

Because I'm hoping

Dalia Kinsey: soon that maybe you'll

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: be releasing Maybe cooking tutorials or a cookbook

Dalia Kinsey: or something. So we want to keep up

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: in case that happens. Okay. So right now, just mostly online Asempa kitchen African food on Facebook and Asempa kitchen with an underscore in between Asempa and kitchen on IG.

And then our website, which is.

I don't have anything in the works yet. I have done online classes during COVID and I'm open and willing to do them again. I just have to have people who want to do them. So if you're interested, let me know. Once this airs, if there are more people interested. We can gather a few people and we can go from there.

So I'm always willing to do them. That is

Dalia Kinsey: actually a really, really good idea. I technically work in food service, food service adjacent. I won't even go down the road too deep, but people are always talking about trying to make our menus more inclusive, but nobody ever says anything about the entire continent.

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: Of Africa. Of Africa. I'm like, that's a very big continent,

Dalia Kinsey: so I don't understand how none of

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: these countries

Dalia Kinsey: cuisines are coming up at all. So yeah, that's, I, I'm going to keep that in mind, that you can do virtual classes if people

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: are ready to vote. Yeah.

Dalia Kinsey: Thank you so much for coming on and for sharing some of your story with us.

If you had one thing that you could say and people would understand it and internalize it forever, like, do you have a final parting piece of wisdom you want to share with

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: everybody? I think I would say, um, whenever you're invited by someone else to eat, someone other than your ethnic group or your community to eat their food.

I think you should always stretch yourself to try some. Yeah. Oh,

Dalia Kinsey: I love

Chef Kuukua Yomekpe: that. Thank you so much. You're welcome. It was nice talking to you as well. Yeah, they might try to put you in a box, tell them that you don't accept. When the world is tripping out, tell them that you love yourself. Hey, hey, smile on them, live your life just how you like it.

It's your party, negativity is not invited. For my queer folk, my trans, people of color, let your voice be heard. Look in the mirror and say that it's time to put me first. You were born to win. Head up high with confidence. This show is for everyone. So I thank you for tuning in. Let's go.

Body Liberation for All Theme

They might try to put you in a box, tell them that you don't accept when the world is tripping out tell them that you love yourself. Hey, Hey, smile on them. Live your life just like you like it

It’s your party negativity is not invited. For my queer folks, for my trans, people of color, let your voice be heard. Look in the mirror and say that it's time to put me first. You were born to win. Head up high with confidence.  This show is for everyone. So, I thank you for tuning in. Let's go.

Body Liberation for All
Body Liberation for All
Holistic Registered Dietitian Dalia Kinsey created Body Liberation for All as a resource for QTBIPOC folks who are ready to become the happiest version of themselves, using healing tools tailored for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ folx. Since wellness is multi-factorial each season covers a broad range of tools (sexual expression, indigenous medicine, mindfulness etc.) for the pursuit of happiness. Special guests and healers join throughout each season to share their journeys to inner peace and fulfillment.