A native of Ghana, Chef Selassie Atadika studied at The Culinary Institute of America and also earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a bachelor’s in geography from Dartmouth College. Now back in Ghana after working for the United Nations, Atadika takes advantage of the cocoa beans as well as the spices and herbs that thrive in her country’s terroir to craft Midunu, her line of truffles that are distinctive not only because of the complex layers of taste but also because they each etched with delicate and colorful designs. Midunu, which means “let us eat” in Ewe, a language spoken in Togo and Ghana, is a call to embrace all that the table offers – great food, conviviality and connection.
Chef Selassie took time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions about her truffles, the ingredients she uses, and her commitment to bringing to the fore what is quickly becoming a major culinary trend–New African Cuisine.
I didn’t realize Ghana was the second largest producer of cacao though most of it is exported. Can you tell us about why it is such a wonderful place to grow chocolate and if it differs in taste and quality from other regions?
Cocoa needs hot temperatures, humidity, and good rainfall. The ‘Cocoa belt’ is within 20 degrees of the equator. Every region has its unique qualities, and the West African terroir gives the ‘chocolatey’ flavor, which chocolate consumers worldwide know as chocolate.
The traditional process of fermenting the cocoa beans in plantain/banana leaves in Ghana provides the second layer of flavor to the beans, which you don’t get in other countries.
How does your team of female chocolatiers go about incorporating locally and regionally sourced ingredients to create your chocolates?
Inspiration comes to me from everywhere. It might be a fruit or spice I see in the market, an element I taste in a dish, or a memory that comes to me from childhood. Sometimes, the ingredient is at risk of being forgotten in a culinary sense or lost in terms of biodiversity. So I try to see how it would pair with chocolate and then play with it in our kitchen.
Can you describe some of the herbs and spices and other ingredients you use?
The Afua truffle features the buttery, nutty, and caramel notes of prekese, one of my favorite West African spices, infused in a milk chocolate ganache, enveloped in dark chocolate.
Aṣa Introduces you to scent leaf, a wonderfully herbaceous variety of basil from West Africa infused in a white chocolate ganache, wrapped in dark chocolate.
The Azar truffle will transport you to North Africa’s souks. Get ready for the bright, tangy notes of sumac infused in milk chocolate, then enrobed in dark chocolate.
Can you give us a brief overview of New African Cuisine?
My cooking philosophy is what I call New African Cuisine. It celebrates culinary heritage where culture, community, and cuisine intersect with the environment, sustainability, and economy by employing local, seasonal, and underutilized ingredients, including traditional grains and proteins, to deliver Africa’s bounty to the table.
And when are you going to write a cookbook?
Great questions. I’m setting aside time right now to work on my book proposal.