On Top Chef, Chef Eric Adjepong sparked a passionate food conversation beyond the plate.
Sometimes Top Chef gives just a glimpse into a chef’s passion. For Chef Eric Adjepong, his back to back Top Chef appearances were more than just seeking to win that coveted culinary title. In many ways, the food television competition opened the door to a bigger food conversation. Luckily, that food conversation continues to flourish.
After his appearance on Top Chef All Stars LA, I had the opportunity to speak with Chef Eric Adepong. While he might be a soft-spoken chef, his demeanor seems to compliment his style of cooking. His dishes are not meant to be flashy or brash. Instead, he invites you to the table and hopes to spark a meaningful conversation.
Many Top Chef fans cheered for Chef Eric on Season 16. While he just missed out on cooking the finale meal, the story that he wanted to tell was just starting. Although he had a successful career, it always seemed that his purpose extended beyond the kitchen. In a way, his food sought to satisfy in more ways than that meal on the plate.
Even though he had just competed in Season 16, he was willing to step back into the Top Chef kitchen. Still, Chef Eric was aware of the difficulties. He spoke about other aspect of cooking on a television show. From the pressure to be creative to the stress of competition, all those aspects make this competition grueling. Although foodies love watching at home, the chefs really have to push themselves mentally.
Although the show is a competition, Top Chef seeks to spark a conversation about food. While the beautifully plated dishes can make people salivate, there is more than just delicious food on a plate. Sometimes, the chefs can give foodies a glimpse into an important culinary conversation.
For Eric Adjepong, his willingness to put his West African dishes up against many more traditionally known cuisines was a huge step forward for these flavors and concepts. While some people might be familiar with these dishes, a larger audience was just getting a glimpse into his culinary world.
While food often tells a story, Eric seeks to educate in the process. Although many people can tell stories of grandma’s Sunday sauce, the impact that West African culture has reaches far beyond his own personal table. In many ways, the dishes that he has shown on Top Chef and in his own cooking reflect where people have been and where they are going.
Chef Eric spoke open and honestly about encouraging people to seek out different dishes. He mentioned that some people might be familiar with a peri peri style sauce which could then lead them to discover other flavors and dishes. In a way, the connection across cuisines and cultures have more roots than what people realize.
Although people might understand the connection through a well-known dish like a gumbo, there are more flavors and concepts to explore. For example, he mentioned that a drink like sobolo, which is made from dried hibiscus, can be a simple introduction into something new. Sometimes little steps can bring people on a long food journey.
While Chef Eric invites foodies to explore the West African cuisine, he encourages an even bigger conversation. As stated on his website, he says, “Let Food Be Thy Medicine.” As one of the few chefs who holds a masters degree in Public Health Nutrition, Chef Eric seeks to educate people on food and its impact on personal health.
Chef Eric spoke profoundly on the concept of eating for a better life. He said, “I would rather pay my farmer now then my hospital later.” The impact of those words is even greater today. The understanding of what people put in their bodies and how that impacts them, as well as the world around them, is more vital than ever.
As people appreciate the impact that food has on themselves, they are willing to embrace the whole circle that food has on the environment around them. Chef Eric commented that people are moving towards being more mindful. The interconnections between food, farmer, community and table are more important than ever.
In some ways, Chef Eric has become part teacher and part chef. While his wife’s and his company, Pinch and Plate, had hosted many dinner parties for people, he is evolving that concept into virtual cooking classes.
These cooking classes tend to balance the familiar with the new, just like many of the concepts that he presented on Top Chef. For example, many people love shrimp and grits, but Chef Eric adapts it to roasted banana grits with Cajun Seasoned shrimp.
While foodies will learn to make a delicious dish, Chef Eric sparks a conversation with the participants and that concept is what sets him apart. It goes back to the old saying that food is the universal language. Chef Eric is the translator between the various cultures.
Although his time on Top Chef is over and he may not have earned the coveted title, the platform that the iconic food television show offered him is valuable. While there might not be a West African restaurant in every city, foodies can find and are willing to buy those spices and ingredients in their local stores. From that perspective, Chef Eric definitely earned a win.
Looking ahead, there are even more opportunities for Chef Eric. His Washington DC restaurant, On the Double is slated to open this year. The roti shop looks to further the African diaspora conversation.
Given the current state of the restaurant industry, On the Double is a concept that can succeed. As a counter service restaurant, it is well suited for the current environment. Additionally, the style of food fills a large void in the culinary world.
After speaking to Chef Eric Adjepong, my biggest takeaway is that food on a plate is a lesson for all to share. Whether it is the history and culture creating the dish or the impact that it has on the individual or the community, the lasting effect of the food on the table is far longer than the time shared during the meal. In some ways, each bite invites people to learn more. While a great chef is always a leader in the kitchen, Chef Eric is also a strong voice to push culinary conversations forward. That combination of qualities will take him far.
Chef Eric Adjepong and his wife are partners in Pinch and Plate. His restaurant, On the Double, is slated to open in Washington, D.C.
Top Chef All Stars LA airs on Bravo on Thursdays at 10 p.m.
What was your favorite dish from Chef Eric? Do you think that he deserved to go farther in the Top Chef competition?