St. Louisan Brings African Cuisine to PBS Cooking Competition

Adjo Honsou is a big fan of TV cooking competitions, but that’s not why she wanted to compete on PBS’s version, “The Great American Recipe.”

She will participate in the third season of the series starting June 17 and she sees it as an opportunity to promote what she considers to be her mission in life.

Honsou, 34, came to this country from the West African country of Togo when she was 14. His family first settled in the Olivette area; she first attended Ritenour High School, then when they moved to Fairview Heights, she went to Belleville East High School.

As an African, she was bullied at school for being different, she says. She came from a different culture and, significantly, she ate different food.

As an adult, her mission is now to “foster a space where my culture is accepted.”

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She doesn’t want children in Africa or any other region to experience what she experienced as a teenager, she says. She tries to promote a better understanding of African culture through volunteer work with the International Institute and also through her food.

Honsou runs a food truck called Fufu n’ Sauce; it serves West African cuisine like chicken yassa, peppered goat stew, and oxtail in palm nut stew. Each entrée comes with a choice of Jollof rice (cooked in a tomato curry sauce) or the truck’s namesake dish, fufu.

“Fufu is similar to mashed potatoes, except it is starchier because it is made from yams and plantains. It’s a doughier, firmer mashed potato,” she says.

Fufu is a filling with little flavor on its own, so it takes on flavors from the sauces and stews that accompany it, she says. It is made throughout Africa and each region or country has its own way of making it. The yams and plantains she uses are traditional in Togo. Other countries use cassava roots.

Honsou followed a scientific training and graduated in biology. Most of his career has been spent in formulation science, which examines how compounds work and react with each other, particularly to create new pharmaceutical products. She worked for several companies and ended up working at Pfizer.

But on weekends, she cooked and served the food of her native country at pop-up events.

“It was a way to test if St. Louisans are willing to try different things. I’ve discovered that St. Louisans are not only willing to try new things, they’re willing to try new things. hungry to try new things,” she says.

So she took the entrepreneurial leap and launched her food truck. “It’s thanks to Fufu n’ Sauce that I quit science,” she says.

The truck and its efforts to promote African cuisine and culture, including at the Festival of Nations, caught the attention of a casting director from “The Great American Recipe.”

The show features contestants from all over the country cooking dishes from around the world. A Midwestern woman cooking West African cuisine was exactly what they were looking for.

Although she’s a fan of cooking competitions, she admits she didn’t know about “The Great American Recipe.”

“But when you live according to your purpose, you do what you’re supposed to do, and you’re here to serve, opportunities will come your way,” she says.

The series was filmed for three weeks last November in Nashville. She was one of eight contestants and the show followed the now familiar format in which a contestant is eliminated each week until a winner is chosen.

As always with these shows, she agreed not to give details about her performances or even the dishes she cooked. But she said the production was much bigger than she ever imagined.

“It’s a big organized chaos,” she said.

Everyone involved in production knows what they’re doing, but sometimes little else about the rest of the process. You have to trust that everyone is capable and competent, she says.

“In all these cooking shows that I love so much, you don’t see the camera in front of the camera. You don’t see how many cameras there are and what’s happening.

She had three cameras trained on her kitchen station at all times, capturing the action from multiple angles. She estimates there were between 50 and 80 people in the room for each shoot, including the contestants, judges, camera crew, kitchen crew and producers.

Each candidate had their producer at their side to ensure the cooking went smoothly. If, for example, she needed garlic, she would tell the producer, who would then tell a member of the kitchen team.

“You turn around and the garlic is there,” Honsou says.

She was intrigued to see how all the parts of the series fit together, especially those not shown on screen. Everything worked as planned because everyone could trust the others to do their part.

“Cooking was the easy part. They said “Come on” and you cooked. Do you have the time. And at the end of the hour, you’re either finished or you’re not finished,” she says.

The rest of the shoot wasn’t as fun. She spent a lot of time waiting, which she didn’t like. And the parts of the show that weren’t about the actual cooking were subject to rerun after rerun.

The show’s producers may want a photo of the contestants entering the barn where the cooking takes place. So competitors had to enter the barn again and again until they got an aesthetically pleasing photo.

“After three days, it’s over,” Honsou said. “You say, ‘I just want to cook.’ Let me cook.’

Adjo Honsou participates in season 3 of the PBS cooking show “The Great American Recipe”.

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