Chef Eric Adjepong with red wine and Coravin

Food & Wine

Chef Eric Adjepong on How His West African Roots Influence His Culinary Approach

November 23, 2020

Written By Coravin

For many Americans, Thanksgiving is a day for celebrating family traditions and recipes that often transcend generations. It’s also a day filled with giving thanks and sharing stories with loved ones over a table filled with delicious food and drinks. While many households serve traditional dishes like mashed potatoes, turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, Thanksgiving is also full of nostalgic recipes reflective of a family’s culture and culinary heritage through delicious and unique flavors.

Our November blog series spotlights three culinary geniuses. We discover the influence that geography, family, culture, and culinary heritage have on their cooking styles. Catch up on our first two installment of this blog series, where we connected with Chef Timothy Hollingsworth and Liren Baker of Kitchen Confidante. Both share a special Thanksgiving dish for our community to create this holiday season.

Our third and final spotlight is Chef Eric Adjepong, a season 16 finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef and a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars. He’s also cooked in several Michelin-star restaurants in New York. Growing up as a first-generation Ghanaian-American, Chef Eric sources flavors and draws influence from many of the West African dishes he enjoyed as a child. We connected with Chef Eric on what inspires his culinary style and the star dish on his Thanksgiving table.

Chef Eric Adjepong with family

Tell us a little bit about the journey that has led you to where you are today in your career.

I always think back to the support of my family and friends as the driving force behind a lot of the success I've experienced in my career. Coming from a very traditional Ghanaian household, being a chef isn't too high on the profession hierarchy according to most West African homes. Having my mother nurture and encourage my pursuit of being in the hospitality industry is invaluable. A lot of hard work, a little luck, and a positive attitude has been the formula.

How does your upbringing and heritage influence your culinary approach and the dishes you create?

In so many ways! I have so much pride in speaking about the food I grew up eating. Those memories and stories become the driving force to my culinary approach now. I love complex depths of flavor and the food from West Africa is exactly that. 

Are there certain ingredients, memories, or family recipes that inspire your cooking during the holiday season?

Nutmeg, clove, and ginger! The use of warm spices, in both sweet and savory dishes, is one of my favorite childhood memories. From the jollof rice to our fried donuts for dessert, the delicate use of those spices is amazing.

What is a dish outside of the traditional Thanksgiving menu that you always have at the table?

Jollof rice! A gathering isn’t a gathering without Jollof rice on the table. Jollof is made from a rich tomato-based stew that includes garlic ginger, curry powder. That stew is cooked down low and slow. Rice is then added to that stew and cooked until tender. It really is one of my favorite things to eat.

Chef Eric Adjepong with red wine and Coravin

Jollof Rice from the Coravin Recipe Book

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil

  • 2 yellow onions

  • 14 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes (opt for Roma tomatoes)

  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste

  • 1 hot pepper, de-stemmed and deseeded (habanero, Scotch bonnet, etc.)

  • 3 red bell peppers, de-stemmed and deseeded 

  • 2 tsp curry powder

  • 1 tsp garlic powder

  • ½ tsp ground ginger

  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 2 ½ cups long grain rice, rinsed

  • 1 ½ cups vegetable or chicken broth

  • 2 bay leaves

Directions

  1. Add onions and 2 tablespoons of oil to a blender and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl.

  2. Add canned tomatoes (liquid too), tomato paste, hot pepper, and red bell peppers to blender, and pulse until smooth. Leave in blender until ready to use.

  3. Heat remaining oil in a large pot over medium heat.

  4. Once oil is hot, add the onion puree and cook for 10 minutes or until the water has cooked out and the puree starts to brown.

  5. Stir the tomato-pepper mixture into the pot. Add the spices and cook for 20-30 minutes until the mixture has reduced by half and is a deep red color. Stir occasionally. 

  6. Add the rice, bay leaves, and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Important step: Cover the put with a layer of foil or parchment paper then the lid and cook for 30 minutes until rice is fully cooked and liquid is absorbed. This will lock in the flavor even more.

Thank you for joining us for our Thanksgiving Traditions spotlights. Stay tuned on Coravin’s social channels for our exciting December blog series.