African Food is not a Monolith

“Food has no boundaries and is always evolving…”

by Nanfei Liu


SUMMARY: Emmanuel (Manny) Baiden (’17) grew up in Accra, Ghana, a vibrant West African nation known for its lush biodiversity and welcoming society. At nineteen years old, Manny left home in pursuit of a new adventure in a new country. His resilience helped him venture into business, thrive in a foreign country, and develop a voice for young Black chefs.

The African continent comprises 54 countries with rich cultural beliefs and eating habits. Like many great nations, Ghana’s history is complex. As the first sub-Saharan country to break free from colonial rule in the 1950s, resiliency runs deeply in the blood of Ghanaians. With an independent mindset and a relentless entrepreneurial spirit, Manny knew from his childhood that “I did not want to work for anybody.” However, Manny’s curiosity for cultures, along with his education in hospitality management and business, created a foundation for him to develop a service that delivers beautiful sensory-engaging food while paying homage to the cultures and origins of flavor. 

Korean-inspired oxtails, sweet potato grits, soft egg.

After working in restaurants for several years, his idea for Manny Eats began to take shape. Ready to dive into his unique approach to food Manny moved to Richmond, Virginia, in 2019 and started small with doing meal-preps for a few clients. What began as preparing nutritious meal plans for a handful of clients soon evolved into state-of-the-art fine dining experiences at private dinners and weddings. Within two years Manny Eats was officially registered as a business!

35.pngThe fire and drive evident behind Manny’s eyes stem from his intention for his business. “What I want to do with Manny Eats is share with others that African and African-American foods are not a monolith and there is variety in the cooking.” African food evokes memories and overwhelming senses of familiarity. The food is history itself. Manny explains how the industry has shifted and how “over the years Black chefs have learned many gourmet cooking techniques; we don’t all have to only cook soul food.” 

 Across the African continent, there are various ways people prepare and consume foods. Today African heritage foods, such as okra, can be found in American grocery stores. “My mission is to show the world that young Black chefs like myself can match the traditional competition with our diverse culinary expertise and curiosity for flavors.” Black food history will not be lost, and the pathways that African food has created will be celebrated.

Avocado toast, black truffle aioli, black pearl king oyster mushrooms, poached egg

As a creator and innovator, Manny’s biggest culinary inspiration is to “keep developing food to many levels and in many different ways to create something delicious. I guess what I’m saying is that possibilities are endless when it comes to food, and that inspires me.”

As an international student, Manny’s eyes were opened to many cultures and the opportunity to experience those cultures. Although Manny spoke English, he had to work actively on improving his language skills. As a way to connect and learn, he turned to food. “Being a part of the international community at JMU, I learned how different foods were supposed to taste.” Manny took those experiences and transformed them into unique dishes such as ‘Fish and Grits with Gochujang Hollandaise.’ Another dish demonstrating Manny’s artistry with explosive flavors is his ‘Korean inspired Oxtail with Sweet Potato Grits and Poached Egg.’

Watermelon and tuna Crudo - cucumber, scallion and jalapeño finished with lemon oil and maldon salt

Manny is excited that the Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management has expanded its curriculum and includes the culinary arts. Manny’s experience as a Hart school student gave him access to opportunities such as the Wine and Culture of Napa and Sonoma program. In his experience, JMU supports entrepreneurship, and there is a whole community of Dukes standing behind you to cheer on your success. Manny is grateful for the alumni who have attended his popular lobster pop-ups and his opportunity to host a virtual cooking class with the Center for Multicultural Student Services. “The fact that I have people from my college supporting my business means a lot, and it keeps me going too!”

Hire Manny as a private chef or invite him to cater your next event for a memorable culinary journey.

For self-starters and adventure-seekers, Manny offers some honest advice:

Just do it: As cliche as it sounds, this saying has been a driving force for me. With the uncertainties of what a new business may bring, it's always scary to start, but you've got it to do it, and everything else will fall into place.

Never be afraid to say YES: You are going to figure it out along the way, and you'll never know what you are capable of until you actually do it.

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Published: Friday, October 15, 2021

Last Updated: Wednesday, December 15, 2021

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