When event organizer Ishmael Osekre first started planning the upcoming African Food Festival in Brooklyn, he sought out a space in Dumbo that could hold about 500 people. It quickly became clear that that simply wouldn’t be big enough. The festival, which will take place August 13 and 14 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is expected to draw between 4,000 and 6,000 guests—in addition to some of the top culinary talent from across Africa and/or living in the African diaspora, like Senegal’s Pierre Thiam, South Africa’s Coco Reinarhz and Dieuveil Malonga, who was born in Congo but currently lives and cooks in France.
A native of Ghana who moved to the U.S. for college and calls himself a curator of Afropolitan experiences, Osekre is determined to represent the diverse cuisines that span the continent and is employing an architect to help break the space up into regions “representing each corner of the continent,” he explains. “You will have access to spaces that give you a feel of what it feels like to be in West Africa or, say, North Africa,” he adds. Each space will host chefs and restaurants from New York, like Nigerian spot Buka, South African restaurant Madiba, and Ethiopian restaurants Awash and Bunna. There will also be plenty of guest chefs including Marie-Claude Mendy, who is from Senegal and based in Boston, and Grace Odogbili, who was born in Nigeria and now cooks in New York.
Osekre also wants to show how the different countries in Africa approach an essential dish, in this case, jollof rice. Guests and chefs at the festival are invited to bring their best renditions for a "jollof-off," and a panel of chef judges will declare a winner. Perhaps the most exciting event at the festival, though, are two multicourse dinners, one hosted by Thiam and the other by Mendy, on Saturday night.
Osekre, who previously hosted a number of African music festivals, says he was “looking for ways to do something more concrete and impactful. I think music has been the only conversation that’s been happening, but . . . there’s so much with African food that no one is talking about as much as they should.”