Chef Ahmed Obo Is Bringing Kenyan Island Food to New Mexico — Cooking in America
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– So here we are at Jambo Cafe, and we’re going to be meeting Ahmed who comes from an island in Kenya. Here in Santa Fe, he found
his true passion for cooking. Now he’s serving up food from his island to the people of this city. – Hey, Sheldon. – Hey, what’s up man? – Not much, jambo. – Jambo. – “Jambo” means “hello” in Swahili. – Where are we standing? Are we still in New Mexico? – I don’t know, what do you think? I’ll show you some spices here. So we have all kinds of stuff. I have a chutney that I made myself. – Look at you! You’ve got your own face on a bottle! – Yeah, check that face
to see how skinny I was. – That’s swag right there. – You come in with the Denzel look. – Denzel look, is that right? Now I come from this small island, it’s called Lamu. – [Sheldon] That’s off the coast of Kenya. – Off the coast of Kenya, tropical. – And your restaurant’s right next door? – Yup, my restaurant’s
right next door here. You’re going to come with me
and show you how I make it. So this is Lamu coconut tempura shrimp. It’s very popular and people love it, so I want to show you how we do it. We’re going to make a pili pili paste. So pili pili, it means “chile” in Swahili. So these little things here,
African bird’s eye chili. – They’re firecrackers. – Okay, don’t put it in your mouth, you’re going to burn your ears. So we’re going to use that
for part of the pili pili. I grew up cooking with my mom. – Is that like a normal Kenyan thing? – No, it’s not a Kenyan thing. I watched my mom cooking. – Yeah, okay. – So she didn’t say, “Hey, come and cook.” – But you always found
yourself around your mom. – Yeah, my mom. So she already knows, she doesn’t measure anything like that. Dump right into the pan. I make this sauce like that. Cayenne, coriander, more chopped garlic, sweet smoked paprika, scallion here, ginger, and more salt in there. This is a little bit of
brown sugar, just a pinch. Some lemon juice. A little bit of oil at a time. Check it out. – The cayenne hits you
in the back of throat. The acidity is perfect,
and then just a warming. It makes you want to take
another bite, though. – Are you ready for it? – No, no, no. So where’d you start off cooking, then? – Growing up in the island, there’s a lot of tourists come
to visit us on the island, so we take them out on the boat, fishing, snorkeling, so when we’re out there, we have to cook for them, because we spent all day. When we are done fishing,
we go to the shore, and we start cooking all the fish, the rice, and the vegetables. – So that was your first… – That was my start into it. So now we’re gonna make the coconut sauce. Garlic in it. The paste, tomatoes, coconut. And then, what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna grill it. And we’re gonna transfer in the saute pan. Then we’re gonna top it with
the pili pili coconut sauce, and it’s ready to go. – Does the cuisine vary once
you come off to your island? – That’s a good question, yes. So when you come to the coast, that’s where the spices come from. Cloves, ginger, cardamom, all the spices. There were a lot of trading going on. So people from India, Yemen, Portuguese. Over the years, they have
left their influence behind. – The diversity broadens
when it’s along the coast. – It’s along the coast, yeah. So we’re gonna make an
island-spiced mahi-mahi. – Hey. – It’s not going to look good, you’ve already messed it up! – I’m already messing it up all ready. – Maybe I should be doing this myself. – Of course it’s gonna
happen on camera like this. – Give it to me. So now you’ve already messed up this side. So I’m gonna switch. – Oh my god. – There, now here we go. – Okay, reset. Now make us look good in production. – It’s beautiful, it’s nice and shiny. – Mortar, pestle. – Mortar, pestle, so we’re going to throw
all these things in there. Coriander, cumin, so we have some thyme there, paprika here, all-spice, cinnamon powder, bird’s eye chiles, ginger, jalapeno, garlic, cloves, and lemon. – Your mom let you do this? – This part she did. It took a long time for her
to accept that I can cook. – Okay. – So one time when I went back, I said, “I’m gonna cook for you.” She’s like, “No, you don’t
know how to cook, boy.” So one of the trip we went back, and I said, I need to learn
some more things from you. So we were in the kitchen together, and it was beautiful. It was beautiful. So that’s the island spice. – [Sheldon] This marinates minimum like six hours, and then– – Six hours, then wrap
them in the banana leaves. Steaming for about 15 – 20 minute. So we have this neat black rice. We put it over the rice, and top with that tamarind,
mango, coconut sauce. – Many levels to this, chef. – Have to be prepared to, you know. This called “ugali.” All East Africa, we eat ugali. We grow a lot of maize, corn. Pour the cornmeal in. It’s like a polenta. – Polenta, yeah. – It lasts you a long time. – You really have to have
some muscle to work that. – Those are the six packs
and the muscles come, yeah? – I think I threw out my shoulder. – Should we call an ambulance? – Maybe. – And then we’re going to go and eat it. – Oh, my shoulder. – Your shoulder? (laughing) You’re all right. It is very nice to be
here, and to eat this food, and to this community. The ugali, you eat by your hands. Like that, so you make
it like a little spoon. – Slightly acidity in there, garlic, spicy, that coconut
kind of mellows it out and just carries all of those flavors. That’s a winning dish right there. – Traditionally we eat with our hands. If I go home, I start using a fork, and they’ll be like, well this is weird. “What happened now, you went to America, you come back, and now you’ve changed.” We say the food tastes better
when you have that connection. Mouth, food, hands, your body into it. – This is gorgeous, chef. – The banana, when you steam it together, brings the earth, you know. – Steaming it keeps it
nice and moist, though. The cinnamon and cloves
hits your right first, but then the mango and
coconut kind of does… – It kind of brings it back. – Pares it, brings it back in. – It’s been a nice journey, you know? Being here in Santa Fe,
when I arrived here, there was, 1995. – Your ticket to America
was because of a lady. – Oh yeah, you had to
bring that up, right? (laughing) She was visiting the island. I took her fishing and snorkeling, we would play drum and party all night. From there, we connect. I was 22, and she was the same age as me. She was like, why don’t
you come to the US? – Yeah, what did mom and dad think? – Well, my mom was like, happy for me, because
I’m the oldest of 11. I’m going there, so I can help them out. I said, I’m just gonna
come for six months. So I arrive in New York. – What month was it? – That was in February. Cold. It was freezing, you know? So a friend of mine
lived here in Santa Fe. And I just arrive, and
I feel just at home. This is where I wanna be. He was working in the restaurant. While I was here visiting him, he invited me to work with
him in the restaurant. I was helping him out, da da da. It came naturally, you know, I feel like that’s where I belong, into the kitchen. The pay was very low, and I needed to support my
family back home and myself here. So I had to have two jobs. I worked at least two restaurant, and I worked at the grocery store. – So you were learning
American culture, too, all through this whole time. – Everything, so many things to learn. And this time, my daughter was born. We went to Kenya. I brought my daughter with me. Went to the beach, and
visit relatives, et cetera. We stayed there for two and a half months. I wanted to stay longer, but I still need to support my mother, and there’s no income. So I came back. Anyway, I jump again
straight to the kitchen. At this place called Inn of the Anasazi. Southwest cuisine. Left Anasazi, and I joined Zia diner. The chef’s like, “I’m gonna work with you, I’m gonna teach you everything.” Not very long, and then he quit. And then they were like,
“Hey we need to talk to you. “We want you to be a chef.” I don’t know. This is too much for me. It’s a big place. It’s got 180 seats. It was a lot of work. So now here I’m a chef,
so I have opportunity too. Order whatever I want, and play with it, and use this kitchen. I talked to the owners, like, what about if we do one night a week, Thursday night, we call it
“African-Caribbean Night.” So here I came, and we
get some red snapper, some good stew, curry and a jerk chicken. – A full menu of– – A full menu for that night. People will reserve, and love the vibe. So it gives me some kind of feeling, like man, there’s something here. I found this location. They had a sign there, “For Rent.” Then a manager of the property showed up, and I talked to him, and
I explained about myself, and he’s like, “Wow, this is great. “Because you know, New Mexico has so many “New Mexican restaurants, green chili. “We need something different. “When do you want to open?” August, 2009, Jambo Cafe was opened. So right away, the line was
already out of the door. – This was the only African
restaurant here in Santa Fe. Why do you think people were so excited? – I think they wanted something different. – So who is your customers? – Who is my customer? Everybody comes here. So in Santa Fe, there’s
not a lot of Africans. So, that is not my target. So my target is the local people who have embraced me, we have been together. So like, movie stars have been here. Johnny Depp has been here. Morgan Freeman, Adam Sandler. – Well from cooking on the beach to movie stars coming to eat your food. You’ve been in Santa Fe for over 20 years. – Yes, I have lived here longer than I lived in Africa. Everywhere I go, I see my family. They raised me here, you know? So it is home. – Breakfast burrito, potatoes, bacon, eggs, cheese, and it’s smothered. This red chile, he stews for like 6 hours.

98 thoughts on “Chef Ahmed Obo Is Bringing Kenyan Island Food to New Mexico — Cooking in America

  1. Hope you loved this episode of CIA. Check out more here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pS2Uo3ko_ew&index=3&list=PLUeEVLHfB5-QDnrM7U_DmP31k8L_2cB2k&t=0s

  2. I wish y'all would try and pronounce his name right 😔 Also I don't normally like fish but those prawns and mahi mahi looks damn delicious

  3. I live in New Mexico Albuquerque and I sometimes go to Santa Fe and I never knew that we had an African restaurant. Glad to know that we do because honestly I'm getting a little tired of the same old stuff here. I will definitely be going there next time.

  4. amazing story. i love his passion and the way he talks about his community, his thrill for what he does, his journey.

  5. This is the beauty of migrating and learning new things and passing on own culture i hope for the best for you 😀 made me really happy while fasting

  6. it's amusing to hear all the stories behind every restaurant along with the good foods. Well done Sheldon! This series is getting better and better

  7. People here from to show support from Lamu because you are too far to go to the restaurant please raise your hands up 🙌🏾

  8. Outstanding online video! Hereabouts at Y&S FOOD! we love to notice this style of content. We produce Travel & Food movies too, around the world, and also we are always searching for inspirations and creative concepts. Thank You.

  9. So according to him it’s an American culture to work 3 jobs to support your family, it’s sad
    It’s the governments problem that these people have to work overtime and they are still underpaid

  10. Ugali in New Mexico…that's legendary. Its not Kenyan enough if Ugali is not in the menu. Cool Stuff Chef Ahmed.

  11. That is why America is the Greatest Nation on earth, it may not be perfect but it represents the idea that Humanuty is in reality one Nation.
    Until China and Russia embraces multiculturalism they cannot possibly overtake the U.S.

  12. He brought food from my home country to New Mexico… I have to visit this place soon!!! Chef Ahmed is the G.O.A.T!!!

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