James Beard semifinalist fights stereotypes with his West African-inspired dishes

Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 9:07 AM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The James Beard Foundation recently recognized a local chef as a semi-finalist in the emerging chef category. He shared the story of how he got started serving traditional west African food from a food truck and how he is trying to fight stereotypes through his dishes.

Growing up Bernard Bennett would always spend quality time with his mother in the kitchen.

“My mom taught me how to cook and then my mom became bedridden and during that time I had to cook for her,” said Bennett.

He said seeing her light up and smile when he would cook for her is when he realized he wanted to serve others through his food.

Since then, he always had big dreams to be a top chef and feels so grateful to be recognized as an emerging chef.

“If my mom were still with us she would be ecstatic, she would take all the credit for sure it was her doing, which isn’t wrong, when she passed what she did instill in me was a hard work ethic and really going for what I wanted.”

Another thing she instilled in him was remembering where he came from.

“You need to reflect on the past, to build a better future. my goal is to fight these stereotypes. You think African Americans you think fried chicken, we’re much more than that. All people of color, all people are much more than these stereotypical thoughts, so you know breaking those is a goal of mine. To do that you have to go into history to see what we were before the slave trade and what we ate before then. How were these other countries influenced during the pathways.”

Bennett said food has no borders.

“So love is our first language and food is our second. Food happens in every situation, death, celebration, new job, business meeting, and interview All these things are held with food. Food is what connects us and even if we don’t understand each other, we understand a plate of food,” said Bennett.

If you’d like to try some of his dishes you can visit him at his food truck or at his new restaurant which is expected to open sometime in March. To see how you can get a taste of low-country cuisine by visiting okanbluffton.com.