Salimatu Amabebe is a Nigerian-American chef and the creator of vegan-based food and event company Bliss House, which hosts cooking classes, food activism talks, and vegan Nigerian pop-up dinners. Through Bliss House, Salimatu founded Black Feast, a monthly vegan pop-up dinner that celebrates black artists and writers through food. For Salimatu, food once felt like a fight they were always enduring. Now, they see it as a creative expression that infuses community storytelling for an opportunity of reflection.
Salimatu is one of the talented chefs participating in a celebration highlighting women in the food and beverage industry, aptly named Roux, happening around Portland on October 5th and 6th. Guests can take a tour of all of Salimatu’s flavors during the festival’s main dinner, or hear them speak on the Healing Through Food + Drink panel.
How did the concept for Black Feast take shape?
Black Feast started as a way to connect with, and celebrate, the black community here in Portland. It was about creating something specifically for us in a place where we are rarely centered. Black Feast is about celebrating our greatness, our style, our swag. It just felt deeply necessary for more spaces like that to exist.
What feelings or experiences do you hope to inspire with your meals?
I want to create meals that center and celebrate black folks through food. I hope for my community to feel cared for and nourished. I want white people to attend and feel nourished, too, while at the same time experiencing, on some level, what it is like to participate in something that is not designed for them. I hope for black folks to feel honored, valued, and seen. I hope for white folks to tread lightly and with the utmost respect and reverence for the table we have built.
How do your roles as both a vegan chef and a visual artist intersect?
Something that has always been important to me as an artist is to make work that provides a service to my community. I see cooking as a form of artistry and artistic expression that allows me to support and be supported by my community. When it comes to cooking and visual art, I’m usually focused on the same things. I tell personal stories through food and visual art because I believe what is personal is political.
For my recent project, Black Convenience (a sampling of this project was recently shown at PICA’s TBA Festival), I designed and created a series of food products that tell stories of black identity through packaging design. Eventually, I will install them all together in one space to replicate a convenience store.
In what ways do you think food heals?
I learned to love my body through loving food. I've seen a lot of healing happen there. Not that long ago, I thought food was my enemy. I ate as little as possible and was constantly frustrated with my body for not being the way I wanted it to be. When I first started working in kitchens, I would work 11-hour shifts without eating and finish my shift with a beer.
Eventually, I realized how miserable I felt, and I started making small changes to care for myself. To this day, it is still a challenge to care for myself, but cooking always brings me home to my body in a way that nothing else does.