From his time on Top Chef Seasons 16 and 17 to his work on various Food Network series, Chef Eric Adjepong has made a point to highlight his West African roots in his cooking. To celebrate National Cognac Day, the chef has partnered with D’USSÉ Cognac to create a special menu for its The D’USSÉxperience, taking place Saturday, June 4, at the Hotel on Rivington’s Penthouse and private rooftop in New York City. Adjepong spoke with The Root about what guests can expect from his menu and his approach to West African cuisine.
Despite how divided the world seems at times, we can usually find common ground when it comes to food. It’s the easiest way to introduce one another to our cultures and create new bonds. For Adjepong, he sees food as a way to teach others about the cultural differences across the African diaspora.
“From my cooking, I want people to know that my culture is not a monolith, that each country and region of Africa is rich and complex on its own and can contribute to the larger culinary and cultural conversation, as seen in the many layered dishes that are prepared across the continent,” he said. “Just like I prepare Jollof rice with basmati, Nigerians swear it should be prepared with long grain rice. Though this might seem like a small difference, it speaks to the individualities and commonalities of African cuisines and cultures.”
As with many cuisines, The Great Soul Food Cook-Off judge sites rice as the best entry point into West African cuisine. Specifically, his grandmother’s Ghanaian Jollof rice.
“Jollof rice would likely be the place to start since this type of rice dish is common across the globe, but the tomato base and warm spices make it the unique West African dish that is served at almost every family gathering and celebration across the region,” Adjepong said.
“I learned my recipe from my grandmother, who uses basmati rice to make it the Ghanain way along with bell peppers, ginger, and cayenne pepper,” he continued. “People across Africa will argue about how the dish should be prepared, but Ghanaians believe the basmati rice makes it a more aromatic dish that balances scent and taste of the popular dish.”
With The D’USSÉxperience set to feature “a recreated ‘cellar tour’ with signature cocktails” and a speakeasy on the roof, the chef had to combine the atmosphere of the event with an equally interesting menu. He decided to match his flavors and ingredients with the story of the cognac.
“The menu had to complement each of these mini experiences, which was a lot of fun to create,” Adjepong said. “For example, one of the signature cocktails inspired by the brand’s humid cellar called ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ is made with mushroom syrup to give it really earthy notes and pay homage to the micro-organisms that live on the humid cellar walls, and are seen as a guardian to the liquor as it ages. With such a flavorful cocktail, the paired bite had to pack an equally powerful punch, but still feel balanced and harmonious. Some of my favorites from the menu include crispy falafel with smoky sweet potato puree and caviar, lamb meatballs with spicy harissa marina, and Malva pudding with a D’USSÉ cognac glaze. Can’t think of a better way to celebrate National Cognac Day.”
The D’USSÉxperience is Saturday, June 4 from 7-11 p.m. at the Hotel on Rivington’s Penthouse and private rooftop in New York City. Guests must be 21 and over.