Growing up in a Ghanaian home, Rachel Laryea came to love plantains based on a popular dish that her mother cooked at home -- Kelewele.
The popular Ghanaian street food is made with fried plantains marinated in spices and served with ground nuts. And it is now the namesake for Laryea's own business centered on reimagining the starchy fruit in recipes that range from ice cream to meatless stews.
The idea for Kelewele came to Laryea after she left a career on Wall St to do cultural anthropology research, where she focused on culture, food, migration and community, and how they intersected within the African diaspora. "I was able to think about food, specifically plantains, as representative and symbolic of culture and specifically the African diet," Laryea said of her dual Ph.D. studies in African American studies and socio-cultural anthropology at Yale University.
Laryea focused on how culture impacts and informs societies, which changed the way she approaches food from just being fuel for our bodies, to a shared experience that connects people across the globe. And she launched Kelewele to do just that -- showcase the diversity of Africa and its diaspora while bringing people together over their love of food.
Kelewele reimagines plantains and has a mission to provide healthy, sustainable and innovative food options to communities across the country.
In her early 20s, Laryea transitioned to a vegan diet and she leaned on plantains as a meat and dairy substitute. "All of this helped inform Kelewele."
From cookies to ice cream, Kelewele uses plantains in various plant-based dishes. For Laryea, the best part is finding creative ways to use the fruit in a dish and learning how to substitute ingredients for more sustainable options.
"When you are plant-based and cook for yourself you have to get creative. I'm able to use plantains as not just a meat substitute, but a dairy substitute. Across the spectrum of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, from a restaurant perspective, I've been creating options that leverage plantains in different ways. Whether it's fried, broiled, or roasted," she said.
Kelewele will open up its first flagship store on July 1 in the Dekalb Market Hall. It's an opportunity that presented itself during the pandemic and one that Laryea said she couldn't ignore. But the transition from online to retail has been nerve-wracking. "It's been a lot of learning and leaning on our community to help us get to a place where we're ready and set up for success for our launch," she said.
And if all goes well, Laryea plans to have Kelewele in grocery stores and bodegas across the city soon.