As a chef and co-founder of nyam kitchen, she does regular pop-ups around the city, specializing in dishes from the African diaspora. Warren also has a passion for the historical and societal pressures that shape the foods many black Canadians eat today.
“Our food has been colonized. We’re now responding to the ways in which the colonizers decided what gets to be really good Jamaican food,” Warren said, explaining how the popularity of certain traditional Jamaican dishes, like jerk chicken for example, has been tied to white acceptance.
After going on her own food journey and spending time studying foods from all over the diaspora, as well as traditional cooking methods, Warren realized how much has been lost or disregarded in things such as traditional Jamaican dishes, often because of a Western belief that black food is unhealthy.
“We’ve been told to go on Mediterranean diets, yet you have research that shows that when a Black person from the diaspora begins to eat more African diasporic diets, they start to have increased health outcomes. We’re genetically connected to our food history, but we don’t talk about it that way,” Warren added.
To include others onto her journey of what she calls a food “revival”, Warren is hosting a food and beer pop-up, called Isoji, which means “revival” in the Yoruba language.
On Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. at the Counterpoint Brewing Company, Warren will be serving guests a creative diaspora-inspired eight-course meal with four fusion-style beer pairings.
The menu includes mouth-watering dishes of familiar foods with a twist, such as jerk venison tartare, sweet potato dukunu, and sorrel tart. Counterpoint, the brewery that Warren will be partnering with for the night, will be making specialty beers for Black History Month that are inspired by African Diaspora beverages. Two of these beers are Sorrel Ginger Cinnamon Sour inspired by Jamaican Sorrel, and a T'ej-inspired Honey Beer with Yirgacheffe coffee inspired by Ethiopian T’ej, a honey wine, and coffee, respectively.
“As a chef without a restaurant, breweries have been good to me. They provide free space and they love the relationship. nyam and Counterpoint have been collaborating for almost a year. I am also always looking at places that we’ve told ourselves we aren’t allowed to be, and why is it that we’ve decided that we’re not allowed to be there,” Warren said, referring to the lack of black people present in the beer industry.
Warren realized that a big part of why black people aren’t often seen at breweries is because for most black people, drinking isn’t a solo event. It usually accompanies food. “We are a social drinking culture which is a good thing.” Warren also plans on delivering some commentary on each dish after it’s been plated, and giving tribute to the people and places that have inspired her on her food journey. “I just want us to gather, claim space and have a good time.”
The event is also partnered with Vintage Black Canada, which is created by Jamaican-Canadian DJ, Aaron Francis. Francis has curated images of black historical presence in Canada, and specifically the Waterloo region, which will be available to guests on their coasters.
The event is limited to 30 guests, and tickets are $85. All the food is gluten-free, and those interested in a vegan option, or have any other dietary restrictions, are encouraged to inform Warren via email while ordering their tickets, as a last-minute substitution will not be possible.
To reach Warren for any catering related inquiries or for further details about the event, visit her website.
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Elizabeth Ononiwu is Nigerian born and Canadian raised. A passionate storyteller, she writes on topics relating to her Christian faith, women's health issues, race, film and theatre. She's currently completing her journalism degree at the University of Toronto. Follow her on Instagram @Elizabeth_Ononiwu