It’s been over a year since Akadi, the West African restaurant featured on Top Chef: Portland and in our 2018 Best Restaurants issue, went on hiatus. In a December 2020 interview with Portland Monthly, chef-owner Fatou Ouattara promised that the restaurant would return bigger and better than ever, with new dishes from all over West Africa and other African countries, plus an educational component.
This spring, she plans to deliver on that promise. First, she’ll open an African grocery store in North Portland called House of Flavor, focused on teaching the public how to use African ingredients in everyday cooking. Later this spring, Akadi will reopen in a bigger space on SE Division with a broader menu.
House of Flavor is scheduled to open April 22 at 3901 N Williams Ave. The grocery store will carry stateside-grown African fruits and vegetables, including African eggplant and okra from Portland-based Happiness Family Farm. There’ll be house-blended spices and Akadi’s house-made sauce as well as imported seasonings like shito, a dried fish-infused chile sauce from Ghana, and ogiri, a Nigerian spice made of fermented seeds. There’ll be dry items like legumes, along with a selection of wine and beer not just from West Africa (including Nigeria’s favorite Star Beer) but also honey wine from South Africa and Kenyan beer. On the walls of the store, Akadi-made videos will play in the background demonstrating how to use these ingredients.
“With the restaurant, they come and enjoy the food, but they still don’t know anything about the culture,” says Ouattara. “[We’re] teaching them how to use these ingredients and incorporate it in their everyday cooking.”
Meanwhile, Ouattara is also gearing up to open Akadi on May 8 at 1001 SE Division St. The new restaurant will be larger than the previous location, allowing for more guest seating as well as a larger kitchen to create a more expansive menu. Many of the restaurant’s staples will remain on the permanent menu: peanut butter stew, attieke (fermented cassava) with chicken or fried fish, shosho (black-eyed peas), and okra stew.
But she’ll also introduce a rotating menu that will change every few months, featuring seasonal ingredients and dishes from other parts of West Africa and beyond. Previously, Ouattara focused on dishes from her home of Ivory Coast and her mother’s native Burkina Faso. After traveling back to Ivory Coast and visiting Burkina Faso and Ghana over the past year, she’s learned more dishes, including those from various tribes in Ivory Coast. She’s expanding her menu to include not only other West African countries like Nigeria and Mali, but also the Congo and Cameroon. She plans to keep precolonial dishes mostly traditional, but may get a little more experimental with postcolonial dishes. She’s been working on a beverage menu using baobab fruit, teff, and millet, and is collaborating with other chefs to create a dessert menu that includes traditional as well as creative sweets made with West African ingredients.
Asked why she’s dedicated herself to learning cuisines from all over West Africa and beyond, Ouattara responds, “West Africa is massive. What I was serving wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg.”
“When you come back to America, they put us all in one pot. I have to know … that I can educate people on the fact that Ghana is different from Nigeria. I basically had to become the master in that field when I’m talking about it.”