salimatu amabebe

This February we had a chance to connect with Salimatu Amabebe, a multi-faceted, Bay Area based chef & artist– and founder of projects Black Feast and Love Letters to Black Folks. We’re talking cooking with family, collaborating with friends, and how “home” can be multiple places at the same time. Enjoy… <3

Hi Salimatu! We’ve been inspired by your work for years, and can’t wait to dig into it with you today. For folks who don’t know, Salimatu Amabebe is the Founder + Director of the recurring culinary event Black Feast, and the summer 2020 series Love Letters to Black Folks, among other things. Can you tell us about the ideological birth of these two projects for you?

I started Black Feast back in 2017 as a way to bring Black folks together to celebrate our art and community through food. I'd been working in the restaurant industry for nearly a decade at that point, but it was mostly to pay the bills while I was trying to sustain an artistic practice. I decided to start taking food more seriously and then I moved to Portland. I began viewing the work I was doing with food as a part of art practice and Black Feast emerged from that.

In the summer of 2020, my dear friend and collaborator, Annika Hansteen-Izora and I created Love Letters to Black Folks as a form of community care. Before the pandemic our schedule was completely booked for a year - we had a whole plan to tour with Black Feast. We started in New York in January of 2020 and then had to cancel everything. I was in the Bay Area and Annika was in Brooklyn, so Love Letters to Black Folks was our way of collaborating, of doing the type of care work we do with Black Feast, while on opposite sides of the country.

For the project, Annika wrote poems in the form of love letters and I made a dessert every week. We received flower donations to give out along with free desserts and love letters. We offered free delivery to folks who couldn’t leave their homes. The project ran for ten weekends, and we served between 100 and 200 Black folks in the East Bay Area and Portland, Oregon every week.

Ask a chef about their connection to food and you’re likely to hear tender stories of love, community, and nostalgic techniques or ingredients. What can you share about your connection to food? What draws you to this type of plant-based, artistic expression, and are there any other types of creative expression you experiment with today?

I grew up cooking with my family. My father and my mother are both brilliant cooks. My dad taught me how to cook Nigerian stews and fry plantain and my momma taught me how to make sugar cookies and birthday cake. My brother taught me not to fear mixing ingredients to make weird concoctions (that should definitely be thrown away), and my sisters came to my rescue when I tried to make my first wedding cake at six-years old by reviving it with bright red frosting.

I grew up in a very lively household with a big family and little money, so we learned how to cook even when the cupboards were bare. Cooking started with my family. For me, it will always be a practice of care and a practice of deep listening. Food will guide you if you let it and there is so much magic in that.

As for other forms of creating - I work in film, photography and sculpture. I also perform drag as a multi-gendered slutty avatar called Barracuda.

As a creative, one is often engaging with their surroundings in a sort of conversation (giving admiration and respect, receiving feedback and inspiration). What are your most reliable ways to find inspiration? Do you read, watch movies, go to galleries, etc, or find inspiration in the little, daily experiences that make up our lives? Can you share with us your most recent inspiring connection, event, or memory?

I get a lot of inspiration from traveling - it doesn't have to be a big trip, but going places outside of my daily routine, seeing people I don't get to see often - those things provide me with a perspective that I can lose sight of when I get too busy.

Collaborating with talented and kind people is also incredibly inspiring. There are so many amazing performance artists in the Bay Area and in Portland - tapping into that scene in both places has been an endless well of inspiration.

We know you used to be located in Portland, our bigger, older city-sibling just an hour away (ARQ is based in McMinnville, OR). Now it seems that you’ve relocated to the Bay Area! What brought you down there, and does it feel like home? Can you share with us what home means to you, and how it’s changed throughout your life?

I came to California for an artist residency in 2020 and the pandemic kept extending my trip until I lived here. I had plans to move to LA eventually, but the Bay scooped me up before I made it there and I’m glad it did!

I have strong roots in many places at this point in my life. Even though I live most of the year in California, I consider Portland to be one of my many homes because I have family there. Home will always be where family is - chosen family, blood relatives, queer kin. My family is spread out between Oregon, California, New York, Sierra Leone, Texas, Nigeria and Arizona. So I have many homes and I imagine there will be many more to come.

Salimatu on Instagram: @salimatuamabebe
Photos by: Marcel Pardo Ariza @marcelpardoa