Anyone who has stopped by the new Alabama Chanin Factory Café has likely seen a new, but influential, team member—or at least tasted one of her delicious dishes. Yewande Komolafe was an invaluable consultant as we organized and opened our café and she continues to prove herself indispensible as our acting café chef. She has an understanding of foods and ingredients that is truly rare and has a talent for teasing out subtle flavors in each dish she creates.
Yewande was introduced to Alabama Chanin by friend and fellow Southern Foodways Alliance member, Angie Mosier. I mentioned that I was looking for a bit of help in opening the café. I needed someone likeminded, who could understand the importance of integrating the Alabama Chanin way of thinking and slow food tenets with carefully selected ingredients to create beautiful dishes.
I had always dreamed of opening my own restaurant and I’d gathered a list of plans, dreams, ideas, and absolute musts for everything from ingredients and recipes to structure and workflow. When I met Yewande, I immediately recognized that she shared many of my thoughts and had a bit of a playful spirit, looking for new and inventive ways to explore traditional ingredients.
This curiosity was fostered by Yewande’s parents, almost from birth. Her mother is a chemist and food scientist for a European-based chocolate company. A talented baker, Yewande’s mother instilled a true respect for the basics in the kitchen. Once those basics were mastered, she would eventually show and tell her daughter how little ingredient changes could make big differences in a finished dish. Yewande’s father is an engineer, a philosopher, and author and she credits him with instilling in her a love for language and the written word.
Yewande was born in Berlin, Germany, to Nigerian parents. The family returned to Nigeria when she was 3, where she and her siblings were raised in Lagos, a metropolitan port city in southwest Nigeria. Both parents always placed great importance on education and cherished their years spent abroad as students; they encouraged their children to have similar experiences and to seek out their own opportunities for travel and education. At age 16, Yewande left Nigeria to attend college in the United States.
Her first instincts were to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She enrolled as a Biochemistry major at the University of Maryland with the intention of becoming a food scientist. However, she quickly realized that she did not have the natural affinity for chemistry necessary for such studies and decided to focus on social sciences. She graduated with a degree in Psychology, but still had a desire to pursue work in the food industry. She enrolled in a culinary and pastry arts program and earned degrees in Baking and Pastry Arts and Culinary Arts.
Yewande initially worked in restaurant kitchens, including Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, Georgia, and Momofuku Milk Bar in Manhattan. A few years ago, she decided to move toward recipe writing, research, and development. She interned at the test kitchen at Saveur in New York, which stirred her once-dormant interest in food science. This led to work as a menu and recipe consultant, researching and testing for many outlets, including Bon Appétit and Southern Living.
A Southerner by choice for many years now, Yewande has discovered many similarities between West African and Southern cuisine. She sees that both cultures use similar cooking styles and have similar dishes—and both cultures rely on tradition and weave stories and family histories within recipes and kitchen tutelages. The recipes that she develops for The Factory Café are created using a similar approach. She utilizes local and organic ingredients to create dishes that may have a Southern inspiration or might be a play on a traditional dish, but have modern sensibilities. She also finds ways to introduce non-Southern dishes and food preparations to customers in an appealing way. Her methods and recipes introduce all of us to new ideas and new flavors.
As the community and our café customers get to know Yewande, the more they appreciate her thoughtful approach and simply delicious food. (If you haven’t yet tasted her chocolate chip cookies, you should remedy that as soon as possible. They are quite possibly addictive.)
She is an eager collaborator and is always excited about creating and adapting new recipes. Her willingness to take on a wide variety of tasks and her unique point of view are welcome additions to The Factory atmosphere. Yewande Komolafe - part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.