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In Ghana chef Binta sows the seeds of change

24 February, 2023
Chef Fatmata Binta.

Photo: Apag Studios. All photos courtesy Fatmata Binta, unless credited

Fonio is the all-but-forgotten African grain that could pep up your cooking and save the world, according to chef Pierre Thiam. Kiki Aranita went to watch him in action, and spoke to him about this ancient ingredient.

Central to Binta’s mission is her promotion of fonio, the oldest farmed grain in Africa. While it is a robust crop, it is difficult to process. Village life uses the long process as a way to connect, but it represents challenges for production at scale.  

“Fonio represents the issues that I really care about – food security, women and farming. Fonio is a platform, going with them and connecting with them. Also, localisation, because it is grown in Africa. If you go to the local markets, you find rice from China and you can’t find one place where you can get fonio, which is local. It’s expensive, so people can’t afford their own food. I want to change that, I want people to know more about their own local food.”

A dish based on fonio seeds creatd by Chef Fatmata Binta

Photo: feminas22

Binta is partnering with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to promote the 2023 Year of Millets, with the #IYM2023 Global Chefs Challenge. It calls for chefs, foodies... everyone, to try to cook with fonio or millet. They then are asked to share the recipe online with the hashtag. A next phase of the campaign will be for Binta to share recipes and techniques of how fonio is treated locally.

Awareness of the potential of this grain is growing, and it is, in large part, thanks to the work of chef Binta. She is, for now, breaking new ground and sowing the seeds of change that can benefit us all. When we met at Identitá Golose in Milan, it struck me that she was the only black chef on the billing.

“Most places I’m the only one,” she says. “It’s a humbling experience. I wish we could be more diverse and there are so many amazing stories out there, so many chefs from Africa doing amazing things. If someone can look and see what I’m doing, it’s an inspiration for them. I always say that African food is the future. We have Nordic and all of that, but I think it’s time to tap into African gastronomy, we have so much to offer.”

This chef has a lot to teach us, and luckily for us, she has most definitely found her voice again.

“One of my friends told me ‘God is trying to tell you to relax, you’ve had a busy year,’” she says about losing her voice.

No chance.

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