In the span of eight years, Gabi Odebode went from biology lab researcher to full-time chef, carving out a space for her passion for West African food with her Afromeals brand. A book, a catering service, and a line of spices later, Odebode still has her eye on the future and possibly a brick-and-mortar location near you.
How did Afromeals come to fruition?
Afromeals started in Baltimore, Maryland, where I lived since moving from Ghana at the age of 9. I started a master’s program studying molecular biology and neuroscience. My monthly stipend was not enough to cover all my expenses. For this reason, I started a catering business as a side hustle to cover a few expenses. I cooked mostly West African food for small parties, church events, and students. After graduating, I worked as a researcher and taught biology. Though I was working in my field of study, I still didn’t feel fulfilled. While working my full-time job, I was still working on certain products and doing light catering gigs until I moved to Ohio a few years later with my family. This is when I decided to turn my hustle into my full-time business.
What are some of your favorite meals to prepare?
Some of my favorite meals to prepare are my one pot dishes. I enjoy cooking food that doesn’t require a lot of prep time or use many pots and pans. This reduces clean-up time. Some of the one pot dishes I enjoy making are Jollof rice (which is a popular West African rice dish cooked in a tomato base stew), West African fried rice, Jamaican Rasta Pasta, and certain West African soups. The soups that we make back home in Ghana and Nigeria are so rich and flavorful. Our soups are great during the winter season.
What do you do differently in preparation for teaching online versus teaching in-person? Does online require different preparation?
When preparing to teach an online class, the preparation is not as rigorous as preparing to teach an in-person class. The online preparation requires prepping for me to teach a two- to three-course meal for those online, compared to the in-person class, which requires prepping each station for our guests with all the ingredients and tools they need to cook a three- to four-course meal for the evening. For the online class, the attendants purchase meal kits from us or purchase ingredients on their own. However, during the in-person class, attendants show up and all the ingredients and tools needed are there ready for them to use. They cook, eat, and then leave while we take care of the clean-up.
What are the ingredients used in African and Caribbean cuisine that your students are most surprised by?
The ingredients most of our students are surprised by are the spices, how rich and flavorful our spices are. They are even more surprised once they eat the food that they prepared with our spice blends. The flavor ignites their tastes buds. We literally see our guests/students dancing while eating their food. Our spices turn ordinary vegetables, meat, rice or pasta dishes into something that is irresistible. We had someone say, “Your spices make nasty things taste yummy.”
Another favorite ingredient that is used in African and Caribbean cuisine that our students are surprised by is the plantains. Sometimes people confuse plantain with banana and when they come to our class and they learn how to cook it, and they fall in love.
What’s your favorite ingredient?
As someone who loves to cook and experiment with various ingredients, choosing a favorite ingredient is like choosing your favorite child—that is impossible. However if I had to pick, I would say my favorite ingredient is our spice blends. This is because they are so flavorful. I am all about flavor. I cannot eat or enjoy anything that is bland. Flavor is everything to me. In my opinion spices enhance meals and they take your meals to another level for a great food experience.
Tell us about your cookbook, Afromeals: 30-Minute Meals and More.
I love cooking. However, I don’t believe in spending forever and a day in the kitchen to make a delicious, flavorful, and healthy meal. Afromeals started way back in high school. I registered and attended a food and nutrition and international cuisine class. There, I watched several cooking shows by Rachael Ray. The classes sparked my interest in cooking. I started to cook more at home and experiment with different ingredients. Fast forward to eight years later, I started developing 30-minute recipes from traditional meals, finding simpler and easier ways of making them. I said to myself, If Rachael Ray can do it, so can I.
Later in life, I started catering and posting my food pictures on social media. Many people wanted to learn how to cook the food; however, they were discouraged because they felt that cooking certain African food was tedious and time consuming. For this reason, I decided to share my recipes with them. I worked months on testing recipes, and I finally published it [in March 2019]. The reception was so great that in the first week we became the no. 1 new release in its category on Amazon.
What are your long-term goals for Afromeals?
The long-term goal for Afromeals is to continue to give people the African and Caribbean food experience through our services and products. To make African and Caribbean food famous. We want Afromeals to have a place of its own. We also plan to grow to different locations nationally and internationally.
Do you have any plans to open a brick-and-mortar spot in or around Cincinnati any time soon?
Yes! Yes! Yes! This is our vision to one day open our own brick-and-mortar spot in downtown Cincinnati where people can come and dine in/pick up food or learn how to cook some incredible meals. We want a place people can access easily and have the African-Caribbean experience. This spot will have a cultural essence to it just like the services and products that we offer.
For more information, visit www.afromeals.com or check out Afromeals on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.