My first week of catering school has come and gone. It was a blast; I learned a lot and got the opportunity to meet many Ghanaians with similar interests and values.
One note about my Ghanaian culinary school experience is that there weren’t fundamental lessons to begin. I started in the kitchen, and am learning everything on the spot.
Day One of Practicals:
On the first day, I came to school dressed in jeans and a t-shirt (for lack of a uniform), to meet my Ghanaian class. They had all been cooking together since August, and most were in their 20’s and 30’s. Their uniform consisted of a chef’s jacket, pants, and the ‘signature’ chef hat. I wanted to take a candid photo of them working, but didn’t want to scare everyone away on my first day.
They were preparing a European influenced menu – shrimp cocktails, dinner rolls, spaghetti bolognese, and a pineapple upside-down cake . My mentor was also the one looking after the Ghanaians, so I began by copying recipe handouts.
After copying several European/American recipes such as ‘green salad’, ‘pasta and tuna salad’, and ‘beef olives’, I told my teacher- Auntie Charity- that I wasn’t interested in such recipes. She replaced my previous handout with one full of Ghanaian recipes, and I copied several before leaving to go to the market.
At Circle, I bought white dress shirts ($3 each) before heading to Malata market in New Town. This market is massive, and will be the main source of my raw ingredients. I started navigating by buying an onion. After doing so, I asked where my next ingredient was, and repeated accordingly. After 2.5 hours I held two massive grocery bags, and a checked off shopping list. I paid a girl to carry my bags on her head to the trotro stop, and returned home.
Day Two of Practicals:
I started off by cooking a very simple menu – by my request. Most of the work was done by me, although I did have Auntie Charity and Eddy (another Ghanaian student) helping me at times. That being said, I learned how to do everything myself.
Vegetable Jollof Rice
After prepping all the vegetables, Eddy showed me how to break down a whole chicken into pieces. As soon as the pieces were seasoned, it headed over to the frying pan.
By far the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. The meat was succulent and juicy – but not greasy despite the excess oil from being fried.
After the chicken was finished cooking, we started a basic tomato ‘gravy’ by sauteing onions and garlic in palm oil. After both were caramelized, we added fresh tomatoes followed by canned tomato puree, and spices. After the puree simmered for several minutes, our gravy was finished.
The jollof was finished by cooking rice in the gravy and garnishing with blanched carrots/green beans.
Ofam is a type of spicy plantain bread/cake. It’s made by mashing overripe (black) plantains, and adding flour, ginger, cayenne, and a few other seasonings. I personally prefer banana bread, and thought the ofam was just okay. But the Ghanaians went crazy over it!
While I’ve made many a fruit salad in my time, this one had more of an emphasis on presentation. Each fruit was cut uniformly – the pineapple into widgets, the banana into rings, and the mango and papaya into cubes. I learned how to supreme oranges by cuting out the individual sections so that no skin, pith, or membrane is included.
The melon basket handle was carved by me, whereas the rest was done by Auntie Charity.
About halfway through yesterday’s work, I cut my thumb pretty badly with an archaic potato peeler. Due to me not bringing a pair of gloves, I was sidelined as Eddy/Charity finished preparing my meal.
While I could have certainly made this without assistance and a recipe, it was certainly the best salad I’ve had in Ghana. I whipped up a homemade dijon vinaigrette to accompany it.
Fun Fact: Avocados are called pears in Ghana. The sweet pears are also called pears, but aren’t commonly eaten.
Again – a dish I could easily make at home. But this was the first time in Ghana I’ve eaten potatoes prepared without either being french fries or boiled, and it was delectable. Potatoes are my ultimate comfort food; when I return I’ll likely overdose on them.
Whole Roasted Chicken
The chicken was very simple to make. It was rubbed inside and out with seasoning (fresh garlic and onion, all purpose seasoning, and salt), and filled with homemade stuffing – rice cooked with parsley and other herbs. While I never was a fan of the ‘fresh’ taste of parsley back home, I have to admit that it ‘worked’ in the rice. Trussing the chicken took several minutes, but wasn’t overly difficult. We basted it every 10-15 minutes with a mixture of palm oil, garlic, onion, salt, and cayenne pepper.
The chicken lay on a lettuce bed with sliced onions and tomato flowers. The flowers were unexpectedly easy – all it involved was zigzaging through the middle of the tomato.
My first week was both fantastic and exhausting. It’s not easy working in a room where twenty gas burners are lit at any given moment and there are only two ceiling fans. But it’s worth it – preparing food is a great way to dive into the Ghanaian culture.