Kwame Onwuachi On Fighting Food Insecurity In The Bronx

Zagat. December 2021.

Kwame Onwuachi is a chef, author, and TV personality. After closing his last restaurant, Kith/Kin in Washington DC, the James Beard Award-winning chef is judging Food Network’s Top Chefand Chopped, producing Food & Wine magazine and a film based on his memoir, and releasing his third book. Onwuachi co-chairs a National Advisory Committee on Food Insecurity and is on a mission to end food insecurity in the Bronx.

Growing up in the Bronx, I experienced food insecurity firsthand. Often, my only meal of the day was the free lunch provided at school. As a child, I worried about where I would eat when I was not at school. In the summer, we, as a family, were able to eat at a free lunch program offered by a public school that helped feed individuals like us. People don’t understand … a lot of kids eat only at the school, and I was one of those kids.

I am tired of people thinking of food as a luxury. It is a basic right for everyone. While growing up, my mother made just enough money to be ineligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), while she struggled to put food on the table. We utilized the free meal program in the Bronx, but we still need more programs like that.

Continue reading on Zagat

Georgia’s First Black Brewery Hippin’ Hops Crafts Fresh Beer and Seafood

Cuisine Noir. October 2021.

Hippin’ Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar is the first African American-owned brewery in Georgia. Its first location opened this year in May on Glenwood Avenue in the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta, and two more Hippin’ Hops are scheduled to open later this year, also in Georgia.

Owner Clarence Boston, originally from North Carolina, is a mortician by trade and beer maker by night. He got interested in brewing at an early age. “My grandmother made wine out of fruits she had in her yard, like muscadine, peaches and green apples. She taught me and my brother how to make wine, but my wine always tasted like vinegar. So I decided to make beer instead!” humors Clarence.

Clarence Boston, co-owner of Hippin' Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar
Pictured: Clarence Boston | Photo credit: Hippin Hops

“We opened the brewery during [the] pandemic and are doing extremely well,” he adds. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Boston noticed a rising demand for alcohol. He also saw that microbrewery was a booming business, though there weren’t many African-Americans brewers around. According to Nielsen’s market data, total alcohol sales outside of bars and restaurants surged roughly 24% during the pandemic.

Good Food for Good Brews

This is not the first business that Clarence and his wife and business partner Donnica Boston have started. The serial entrepreneurs own a real estate investment company, funeral homes, crematoriums, bars and restaurants across North Carolina and Georgia.

Hippin' Hops beer
Pictured: Beer by Hippin’ Hops | Photo credit Hippin’ Hops

Hippin’ Hops is designed to look like a beer garden with indoor and outdoor seating, as well as fun games such as cornhole, beer pong and Jenga. Brewed on-site are bold, sweet and bitter stouts, sours, ales, lagers, Belgians and IPAs. “Our goal is to introduce people to craft beer,” says Boston. “We don’t have a particular style of beer. We want everybody to come to our brewery, so we brew to appeal to all cultures.”

All in-house beers are made without additives, sugar and unnatural flavorings. Highlights include Bier Saigon – a fruity and flavorful Belgian-style saison with complex aromas that are perfect for drinking during warm summer months – and Top Five, an IPA brewed with sorrel that is also a bestseller.

Donnica helms the kitchen side of the brewhouse, the menu of which is primarily inspired by her Louisiana roots. With shrimp and grits, alligator po’boy and Cajun shrimp deviled eggs on the menu, the food is as much of a focus here as are the drinks.

Oyster collardfeller at Hippin' Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar
Pictured: Oyster collardfeller | Photo credit: Hippin’ Hops

Clarence takes great pride in their variety of east coast oyster preparations – served raw on the half-shell, oyster Rockefeller with homemade cheese sauce, oyster collardfeller with collard greens and smoked turkey, and smoked gouda oysters with garlic butter sauce. Executive chef Jamarius “J.” Banks, a former contestant on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay,” runs the kitchen operations.

Hip Hop and Beer

The trendy name Hippin’ Hops came from Clarence’s love for hip hop music. The brewery and restaurant are designed for friends to lounge through the evening with good food and drinks while listening to a live DJ (Thursday-Sunday).

When the Bostons received an overwhelming response from the public for being the first Black-owned brewery in Georgia with its own location, they “didn’t even know” that they were the first. Less than 1% of the nearly 8,500 craft breweries in America are Black-owned, according to the Brewers Association’s 2019 survey. “Perhaps people think there’s too much investment involved in opening a brewery,” Clarence points as a reason for the gap.

Hippin Hop Brewery and Oyster Bar crew
Pictured: Clarence Boston and Hippin’ Hop team | Photo credit: Hippin’ Hop

His advice to anyone looking to open a brewery is to start small and not to get many investors involved. Also, he recommends hiring expert chefs, managers and brewmasters so that all aspects of the business run smoothly even when you are away. “Most of all, don’t just talk about it, go ahead and do it.”

Hippin Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar is located at 1308 Glenwood Ave. SE in Atlanta.  Go to the website for hours, upcoming events and menu.  You can also follow along on Facebook and Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir. All rights reserved.

Preserving Gullah Geechee Cuisine Through Cookbooks

Cuisine Noir. September 2021.

Many African American decedents of enslaved people lived along the barrier islands and along the coast of Georgia, Florida and both Carolinas. “Instead of dying after their landowners abandoned their cotton, indigo and rice plantation, the Geechee thrived in collectives that shared their bountiful resources as well as their own language, music, art and spiritual traditions,” writes Matthew Raiford in his new book, “Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer.”

Over the years, chefs, historians and authors around the country have made it their mission to preserve Gullah Geechee culinary traditions for today’s generation and those to come. In the 1970s, Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor put Gullah-Geechee cultural identity in front of Americans for the first time. Her seminal cookbook, “Vibration Cooking: Or, The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl,” documented recipes from her South Carolina Lowcountry home and gave a glimpse into the lives of Black migrants.

Today, Raiford and his wife, Tia, work tirelessly at their sixth-generation family-run Gillard Farm in Brunswick, Georgia. They encourage their young sons to learn the sustainable farming techniques and cooking traditions passed down from their West African ancestors over 300 years ago. “Good food and good community go hand in hand. Maybe it’s the key to resilience. And maybe now, we know our worth,” says Raiford.

Gullah Geechee cuisine is often called the “birth of soul food” and includes cooking with seasonal vegetables such as okra, collards, corn and cabbage, as well as freshly caught Lowcountry seafood, such as conch, shark, oyster, blue crab and locally grown rice.

To learn more about Gullah Geechee food and culture, check out these recent cookbooks.

Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer” by Matthew Raiford and Amy Paige Condon  

Raiford’s new book pays homage to his forefather Jupiter Gillard, who purchased the land he currently tills back in 1912 as a free person. The title Bress ‘n’ Nyam means to bless and eat in Gullah Geechee dialect. “It is what we said for grace before we ate,” says Raiford. The recipes organized by the universal elements – earth, water, fire, wind, nectar and spirits, are based on his own heritage and inspired by his global travels. Highlights include sweet potato pone, smoked Ossabaw Island hog, and molasses stone fruit gelato with apple-lavender compote.

Sallie Ann Robinson’s Kitchen: Food and Family Lore from the Lowcountry” by Sallie Ann Robinson

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, native, cookbook author and celebrity chef Sallie Ann Robinson is also a sixth-generation Gullah. Robinson, who is nicknamed “Gullah Diva,” has written three cookbooks and a photography book about the island. In her most recent hardcover, find passed down recipes for Carolina country broils, island pineapple and coconut chicken and Gullah chicken gumbo.

Also, check out her legendry books, “Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way: Smokin’ Joe Butter Beans, Ol’ ‘Fuskie Fried Crab Rice, Sticky-Bush Blackberry Dumpling, and Other Sea Island Favorites” and “Cooking the Gullah Way, Morning, Noon, and Night.”

“Mama Doonk’s Gullah Recipes 2nd edition” by Theresa Jenkins Hilliard

Hilliard grew up in a Gullah Geechee household in Charleston, South Carolina, and likes to take readers on a cultural and culinary journey through her books. Named after her grandmother, Mama Doonk, the book’s 2ndedition was released in summer 2021. In it, you’ll find recipes that Hilliard learned by watching the three women in her house (aunt, mother and grandmother), using proteins such as rabbit, raccoon and possum. For more traditional flavors, there are also instructions for pound cake, biscuits and corn muffins.

“Jubilee (Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking)” by Toni Tipton-Martin

James-Beard award winner, Tipton-Martin, is one of the most celebrated culinary historians who takes a kaleidoscope view on African American cuisine. In her cookbooks, she identifies chefs, entrepreneurs, recipes and techniques beyond southern and soul food. In “Jubilee,” named “one of the best cookbooks of the year” by The New York Times, you can find recipes for classic dishes such as sweet potato biscuits, seafood gumbo, buttermilk fried chicken and pecan pie with bourbon, among many others.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir. All rights reserved.

Georgia’s In My Fillings Serves Made-to-Order Gourmet Cupcakes to Please

Cuisine Noir. September 2021.

Charlise Johnson is the chef and owner of In My Fillings cupcake shop in Suwanee, Georgia. Her unique business model offers customers an opportunity to make their own cupcakes by combining different base cakes, icings and toppings. She opened her first, what she calls the “Chipotle for cupcakes,” style location during the pandemic in November 2020 and aspires to open locations across the country. A competitive baker, Johnson has been featured on the Food Network, Bravo and VH1.

Johnson’s earliest memory of baking cakes was as a child in her Easy-Bake Oven. Her mother, Joyce Jenkins, has a catering and event venue in Pine Level, North Carolina, and she taught Johnson how to bake, serve and run a business.

Charlise Johnson decorating cupcakes
Pictured: Charlise Johnson decorating cupcakes | Photo credit: Elle Kay Photography

After graduating with a degree in computer science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Johnson worked full-time in Atlanta as a database developer. But her true passion was baking. She opened a home-based cottage bakery called Intimate Eats, through which she made custom cakes during nights and weekends. She worked seven days a week for about six years. “It was a lot of work and I never had any time off,” she says. Meanwhile, Johnson won second place on Food Network’s “Cake Wars” in 2016 and competed on “Holiday Wars” in 2020.

Flavors to Please

Last year, Johnson turned 40 years old and wanted to ensure that she had taken the time to pursue her ideas and dreams. She still liked to bake, but cake decorating involved laboring over fondant and piping for countless hours. She quit her corporate job and opened a brick-and-mortar cupcake shop in the suburbs of Atlanta. “I got the idea when my clients came for cake tastings and were looking to mix and match the flavors,” Johnson says about her new concept. At In My Fillings, customers can walk into the store and design their own cupcake combinations on the spot.

Assortment of In My Fillings cupcakes
Pictured: Assortment of In My Fillings cupcakes | Photo credit: In My Fillings

Choices include made-from-scratch five base cake flavors offered every day (including sweet potato and red velvet), five fillings (like crushed pineapple and chocolate ganache), seven icings (such as salted caramel, buttercream and peanut butter), and eight toppings (for instance pretzels, pecans and coconut). Seasonal flavors may include summer lemon, carrots, or Georgia peaches, and Johnson happily accommodates off-menu requests as well. She recently made vanilla cupcakes with guava filing for a pickup.

The custom-created cupcakes are especially popular with kids celebrating birthday parties and bar mitzvahs. “Thankfully, I have a lot of repeat customers. I get calls for cakes every day, but I tell them to buy a cupcake instead,” humors Johnson.

No Regrets

When asked about what it was like to open a new business during the pandemic, Johnson responds, “Just like any other time. I never had a storefront before, so I don’t know what it should have been like. It’s not any different than opening a business at another time, except there’s more uncertainty.”

Johnson took a leap of faith leaving her comfortable paycheck to start her own business during uncertain times, but she feels it was worth it. “There’s a lot more to business than baking cupcakes. I have to deal with administrative paperwork, manage employees, and serve customers. It takes different skillsets, but I am learning them over time. The idea of running your own business may seem scary, but if you take small steps, you can do it,”

Assortment of In My Fillings cupcakes
Pictured: Assortment of In My Fillings cupcakes | Photo credit: In My Fillings

Johnson motivates others just as her mom and mentors encouraged her. She advises entrepreneurs to reach out to the city about business licensing requirements and to speak to other small business owners about their learnings.

Though In My Fillings has been open for only a few months, Johnson is already dreaming of hiring a business manager and expanding to locations all over the country so that she can focus exclusively on baking cupcakes. “Regardless of what happens, I feel great knowing that I did it.”

To learn more about Charlise Johnson or her cupcakes, visit In My Fillings. The storefront in Suwanee is located at 2855 Lawrenceville Suwanee Road Suite 780.  You can also follow along on Facebook and Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir. All rights reserved.

10 Cookbooks You Need If You Loved Watching ‘High On The Hog’

HuffPost. July 2021.

The popular Netflix Original documentary series “High on the Hog,” hosted by Stephen Satterfield, takes viewers on a journey through the deeper history and food of Black America. The four-part series was adapted from the 2011 book “High on the Hog,” written by culinary historian and author Jessica B. Harris. Harris has written over 12 books examining the foods of the African diaspora, and this is certainly a must-read.

But if you’re curious to learn more about the contributions of African Americans to American food culture, check out these books written by Black authors. Though they share similar subjects, each one has a different vantage point and voice that pays homage to the author’s own roots.

Continue reading on HuffPost

This Juneteenth, Grab a Plate of Gullah Geechee Goodness

Greatist. June 2021.

The Juneteenth season is about remembrance and celebration. We remember the day Union troops arrived in Texas, announcing that the Civil War had ended and enslaved people were free. And we celebrate the cultures that have been preserved and reborn out of that time. 

One such culture is that of the Gullah Geechee people, one of the oldest communities of Black culture in the United States. Today you can mostly find Gullah Geechee communities in the coastal lowcountry regions of Georgia, Florida, and both Carolinas. And, as with so many other vibrant cultures, food is their lifeblood.

We spoke with a couple of Georgia restaurateurs who have made it their mission to preserve the rich Gullah Geechee cuisine for today’s generation and those to come.

Smalls but mighty: How one couple gave their food legacy new life

Food doesn’t get much more soulful than Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen & Bar, a mouthwatering spot opened in 2019 by executive chef Gregory (Gee) Smalls and general manager Juan Smalls in downtown College Park, just outside Atlanta.

The Atlanta power couple made their mark by introducing Gullah Geechee cuisine to the community (and providing scholarships to LGBTQ students through their nonprofit organization, The Gentlemen’s Foundation).

Continue reading on Healthline Media’s Greatist

Celebrate Juneteenth with food & drink

Georgia Trend. June 2021.

Juneteenth, celebrated June 19, is the oldest national celebration of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. It is not only a day of reflection, but also a day to celebrate African-American cuisine and culture. This week, cities around the state are hosting parades and festivals. Some businesses are organizing diversity-focused conversations. Black chefs and restauraunters are also planning special meals and tasting events to educate and acknowledge the significance of the date.

Continue reading on Georgia Trend…

Nayana Ferguson of Anteel Tequila Inspires Women to Create Their Own Legacy

Cuisine Noir Magazine. July 2020.

Nayana Ferguson of the Detroit-based spirit brand Anteel Tequila has always loved tequila.  When that love turned into a passion, she co-founded the tequila brand, which is one of the only tequila spirit brands in the United States to be led by a Black woman. Since launching in 2018, Anteel’s Coconut Lime Blanco Tequila and Reposado Tequila have received national recognition in Forbes and Wine Enthusiast, as well as several awards at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

From Dreaming to Doing

In 2016, Ferguson and her husband, Don, were looking for a retirement opportunity to invest in. They had a wild idea of starting a tequila company given her appreciation for the spirit. Only in this situation, Ferguson was a doer, not a dreamer. Over the upcoming months, she researched everything she needed to know about setting up a tequila business and began talking to potential distilling partners in Mexico. Prior to this, Ferguson didn’t have any knowledge of the spirits industry, but she had an MBA and was a corporate business professional.

Co-founder Nayana Ferguson of Anteel Tequila
Pictured: Nayana Ferguson | Photo credit: Cyrus Tetteh

“It took about 11 months to get an actual bottle in hand. We needed a contract with the distillery, approvals by the Mexican government, importer permits from the U.S. government and so forth.” Ferguson recalls months of sampling recipes, learning about the spirits industry, doing research and filing paperwork. She was not able to visit Mexico due to the political climate there, so she relied a lot on FedEx and Google. The chemist at her partner distillery in Mexico would create recipes and send them to Ferguson and her team to sample. After a lot of back and forth, they achieved the desired flavor profiles they wanted to see in Anteel.

Becoming a Market Leader

When asked why Ferguson is passionate about tequila more than any other spirit, she cited it’s health benefits. Tequila is a spirit that is made from the agave plant, so it is naturally gluten-free and low in carbs, sugar and calories than other spirits. “If I’m going to drink, I would drink what is cleaner for me. Obviously, you need to drink tequila neat and not add extra sugars typically found in mixed drinks,” she states. As a pancreatic cancer and breast cancer survivor, Ferguson needs to watch what she puts into her body and minimize any effects of alcohol. She says that agave does not spike your blood sugar. Unlike other spirits, tequila is said to be an upper, not a downer, and can lift your mood, which is another reason why she likes tequila.

Anteel Tequila claims to have the world’s only coconut lime-flavored tequila, one that took a lot of flavor balancing but is something Ferguson and her other co-founders wanted. It is produced by using natural coconut extracts and avoiding synthetic flavors, which also makes drinking neat easy and flavorful.

Not many tequilas rest their Reposado in whiskey barrels (most use America oak barrels) as Anteel does. This infuses a unique char and flavor into their tequilas. Another thing that makes the brand stand out is the combination of blue agave from highland and lowland.

The Michigan-based brand recently changed the name to Anteel Tequila from TEEQ (Tequila of Extraordinary and Exquisite Quality), which is short for Antillean, a species of hummingbird.  The bird that inspired the name and the logo serves as a reminder of the Fergusons’ first discussion while in the Dominican Republic four years ago as well as the vision for the brand.

Drink with Anteel Tequila's Coconut Lime
Picture: Anteel Coconut Lime Blanco Tequila | Photo credit: Anteel Tequila
Continuing to Push Through

Like many businesses, Anteel has faced a few challenges this year, but they’ve continued to prevail by connecting with their clients and vendors. “Since bars and restaurants are not ordering as much, we are promoting online ordering. We have tried to stay proactive by doing social media marketing and making sure the product is still being produced,” says Ferguson about how she is managing her brand since the pandemic began. Business closures and staff shortages have in turn affected her supply chain, making the production time longer.

Even before the pandemic, it was challenging being an African-American woman in the tequila business for Ferguson. “When I walk into a store, initially some people don’t think I know what I am talking about. But once they see that I have done my homework, they begin to accept me,” she says.

As a mother of two young girls, Ferguson hopes to pave the wave for other Black women who feel they can’t break into a male-dominated business. She advises, “You don’t need to know everything, but you can start somewhere and learn along the way.” She encourages others to go for their dreams and create their own legacies.

Anteel Tequila is made and bottled in Mexico and imported to the U.S. through a distributor in Michigan. The products are available for sale at restaurants, bars and stores in Michigan, California and Florida as well as online. Ferguson recommends checking your local state laws for receiving alcohol by mail.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine.

Autism Influencer and Baker, Jeremiah Josey, is Inspiring Kids Around the World

Cuisine Noir Magazine. Dec 2019.

At only 20 years old, Jeremiah Josey is a Maryland-based baker, model, author and inspirational speaker. He has walked the New York Fashion Week runway, appeared on Steve Harvey’s show three times, and was recently called out as one of 14 top autism influencers on social media by ‘Autism on The Mighty’ community. And he has accomplished all this while suffering from autism, a development disorder that restricts one’s communication skills.

Josey started baking with his grandmother in his early teens. Her sunny side up eggs called “egg in a basket,” that she often made, enamored him.  He learned to perfect the eggs and set off to discover a world of pastries and desserts. Be it the holidays, family birthdays, or weekends, Josey often found himself alongside “grandma” baking pumpkin pie, blueberry pie, peanut butter cookies, pumpkin chocolate cheesecake, and chocolate cake. “We cook from love and put our heart and soul in it,” Josey says about his cooking.

When Josey expressed a passion for cooking, his mom reached out to Washington, D.C.-based “Top Chef” Kwame Onwuachi and asked if Josey could come and cook with him at his restaurant. He agreed and it set Josey on a journey of cooking alongside celebrity chefs all around the world. During one of his appearances on “Steve,” Harvey surprised the young star with an impromptu baking session with celebrity pastry chef Christina Tosi, founder of the dessert and bakery restaurant chain Milk Bar.

Dreaming Big Together

Josey got his first passport this past summer and since then has traveled to Bermuda to bake alongside different chefs and speak on autism at schools. He has been invited to Jamaica and Quatar in 2020. He tells other children, “Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you cannot pursue your passion and have big dreams.” He also records his journeys for his YouTube channel – Jeremiah’s Cooking Adventures.

Josey’s biggest inspiration has been his mother, Simone Greggs. “She always told me, ‘You can do it. It may take you longer, you may need to find a creative way, but you can do it.’ She has never left my side and we wouldn’t know what we would do without each other,” he says. His biggest challenges have been overcoming stage fright and the fear of public speaking due to lack of self-confidence, but he practices at home and is getting used to it.

Autism Influencer and Baker Jeremiah Josey
Photo credit: Jamie Cheyenne

The mother and son duo co-wrote a picture book — “Here’s What I Want You to Know” — based on a conversation they had when Josey was bullied at school. “I took his words and created the book to help African American, Hispanic and ethnic minority parents who have just received the diagnosis that their kids have autism,” adds Greggs.

When asked about his future plans, Josey continues to work on his “big dreams.” His mother is compiling all the recipes he has prepared with celebrity chefs for a cookbook. He is currently working on a new clothing line called Passport Adaptive™ to launch in 2020 and trying to get into culinary school. Some of the culinary schools are not ready to accept autistic students and it’s not easy for Josey to take entrance tests, so this has been challenging. He would also like to open his own bakery called Jeremiah’s Cakes and Shakes.

This young baking star is just getting started and the biggest advice he shares with kids with autism is to be happy, to be excited about their work and never stop dreaming or following their passions.

For updates on Josey’s baking journey and adventures,  follow him on Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Jérôme Aké Béda’s Journey to Switzerland’s Historic Winegrowers Festival

Cuisine Noir Magazine. Sept 2019.

Twenty thousand spectators gather in an open-air arena built along the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The colorful display of costumes, floats, dances and music, feels no less festive than Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. More than 7,000 local actors, singers and musicians participate in a two-and-a-half-hour show staged by Daniele Finzi Pasca who is known for his direction at the Sochi and Turin Olympic ceremonies.

This is Fête des Vignerons, a traditional winegrowers’ festival held roughly every 20 years in the lakeside town of Vevey. The festival, which connects people from the villages, countryside and vineyards, is recognized by UNESCO on its list of intangible cultural heritage.

Jérôme Aké Béda’s Journey to Switzerland’s Historic Winegrowers Festival
Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

This year, for the first time in the Fête’s 400-year old history, a black African played a leading role. Jerome Aké Beda was one of three professionals tapped to portray doctors on stage as they explained the history of winemaking and argued in their funny banter (in French) how wine should be made while connecting the 21 different acts of the orchestrated performance.

Making History in Wine and Switzerland

Beda was born in Côte d’Ivoire and moved to Switzerland in 1990. He worked as maître d’ at a restaurant and worked his way up to be named Sommelier of the Year by the Swiss Gault & Millau Guide in 2015 and Commander of the Vaudois Wine Order in 2018. Beda is the author of two books, “50 Best Winemakers of Switzerland” and “The 99 Chasselas to Drink Before Dying.”  He still works as a sommelier at Auberge de l’Onde, an upscale restaurant located in the heart of Lavaux region, between Lausanne and Vevey, surrounded by terraced vineyards that make up a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I caught up with Beda soon after his seventh performance on a warm sunny afternoon outside the stadium in Vevey. Fête des Vignerons has twelve shows held over three weeks on some mornings and evenings.

“The artistic director and president of Fête des Vignerons came to eat at my restaurant three years ago. They drank a lot of wine and after that, came back and said to me, I’m picturing you on stage! At first, I didn’t take him seriously, but he came back three times. I consulted my friends and they all encouraged me to do it,” Beda says about how he was selected to play a lead role in the 2019 Fête. “An African person has never participated as an actor before, so I agreed to try it,” adds Beda. When I asked him why he thinks they picked him for the role, he said, “When you make your cinema production, you create a costume and then find the right person to fit in it. They probably saw me as one of the three doctors (who in real life, work as a journalist, a teacher, and Beda as a sommelier).”

A Somm Life to be Proud of

Though Beda had no background in acting, as an award-winning sommelier, he considers himself somewhat of an actor. “I present wines on stage and in interviews.” For the Fête, the three actors practiced in hiding to keep their identities from the public until the first day of the performance. “In Switzerland, everyone knows me as the only black sommelier,” he laughs.

3 Actors on stage at Fête des Vignerons in Switzerland
Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Beda’s grew up in a country that does not make wine or even grow grapes. He attended Abidjan’s Hospitality School and worked as a butler at Wafou, a famous restaurant in the Ivorian capital. His mentor got him a job in France, and later Switzerland, where he trained with expert sommeliers. Today, Beda oversees 4,000 bottles of fine wines in his cellar and hosts wine dinners and wine tasting classes.

“What attracted me about wine is that you learn about geology, history, culture and meet all kinds of people,” he says. His secret to learning about the wines is meeting the growers themselves, hearing their stories of how they make the wine and visiting the vineyards.

“Our former president of Côte d’Ivoire once said that anybody can achieve something if they believed in it. That’s my philosophy. When I came to Switzerland, I decided I will be the best sommelier. I accomplished that. Now, I feel I became a part of history again. I am proud.”

~ Written for & published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.