Rochelle Ignacio drew inspiration for Feed the Soul Dining Week from the Netflix series High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America. In the Peabody Award-winning, four-part series, chef and food writer Stephen Satterfield traced the history of African flavours and foods from the bays of Benin, a centre for the slave trade, to the fire pits and restaurants of South Carolina, Virginia, Texas and New York.
“The influence that Africa has had on culinary industries within America – and within Canada – is so profound,” says Ignacio, a community organizer and founder of Black Owned Market Edmonton. “We wanted to fill some of these Black-owned restaurants that Edmontonians don’t know about.”
Participating Feed the Soul food purveyors in Edmonton include Café Caribbean, Mesobena, Token Bitters, Uncle Brian’s and Jasper Avenue’s El Beso, which will offer a three-course $35 meal with appetizer, tacos and desert during the inaugural event. Percy Wiredu, a force in the Black-owned restaurant scene as owner of El Corazon and Pablo Cocktail Lounge along with El Beso, says he’s had great success participating in the Edmonton Downtown Business Association’s Downtown Dining Week and hopes this new Feed the Soul will bring similar benefits. “When we’ve done the Downtown Dining Week, we’ve always seen a huge response from different audiences that we wouldn’t necessarily reach with our marketing,” says Wiredu. “We’re looking to reach a new and different audience.”
Also participating is Brian Kombani, who in 2021 launched Uncle Brian’s, featuring South African-inspired boerewors sausage, at the Edmonton Downtown Farmers’ Market located on 97 Street. “South Africa has one of the biggest sausage cultures in the world,” says Kombani, who is from Zimbabwe but says the two nations share cultural and culinary traditions. “You’d almost call it a gourmet sausage.” He has since won Porkapalooza Edmonton BBQ Festival’s sausage category. Saturdays and Sundays, you can purchase his sausages at the Edmonton Downtown Farmers Market.
Taking a turn to feed the mind as well as the soul, Ignacio has partnered with the Edmonton Public Library to curate a list of books highlighting Black cooks, cuisine and culinary culture.
Ignacio says Edmonton’s Africa-tinged food scene has come a long way since she was enjoying roti and reggae at Red Star during her university years. The Jasper Avenue restobar used to have monthly Caribbean night where the mother of owner Blaire McFarlane would cook jerk chicken, curry chicken roti, rice n’ peas and corn bread for one-night only.
There are now around 80 Black-owned food and beverage businesses in the city, and they’ve clearly ventured way beyond familiar Caribbean flavours and take-out counters. “Edmontonians are becoming more adventurous in what they want to eat,” she says. “Everyone knows the Jamaican beef patty, but what are some of these other foods out there?”