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A Ghanaian Fine Dining Pop-Up Makes Space for Black Chefs in SF

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A grilled beef skewer topped with various herbs and spices, with a wedge of lime on the side.
Elade Test Kitchen will serve a variation on Ghanaian suya—a West African classic done in modern, fine dining style. This version was from one of chef Selasie Dotse's earlier pop-ups.  (Selasie Dotse)

For the past several years, Selasie Dotse has worked at acclaimed fine dining restaurants like Lazy Bear, Avery, SPQR—a parade of Bay Area Michelin star contenders. Most of the time, she’s been the only Black chef in the kitchen. The only Black woman. The only African.

And so it has been both a challenge—and a personal mission—for Dotse to carve out a space for herself and for other Black folks who aspire to make a name for themselves in this most rarefied sector of the dining scene.

A smiling chef wearing a baseball cap and apron sits at a wood table inside a restaurant.
At all of the Bay Area fine dining restaurants where Dotse has worked, she has been one of the only Black chefs in the kitchen. (Courtesy of Copas)

“The goal is just to be like, ‘We’re here,’ Dotse says. “I want to find ways to let the Bay Area know that there are Black chefs, that there are African chefs. It’s not all white chefs doing Asian techniques.”

Part of how she’s done that? Through pop-ups. This Sunday, May 29, she’ll launch her latest, Elade Test Kitchen, a culinary exploration of Dotse’s own Ghanaian heritage, but done through the lens of modern fine dining techniques and presentation. As such, it’ll almost certainly be a meal unlike any that most diners will have ever experienced. The dinner is part of the Sunday Supper series at Copas, the Northern California-inflected Spanish-Mexican restaurant on Market Street in San Francisco, where Dotse is the sous chef and pastry chef.

For this weekend’s pop-up, Dotse plans to take the handful of West African dishes that diners may have experienced—suya, jollof rice and plantains—and remix them in new and exciting ways. So, she’ll do a version of jollof rice, that savory, tomato-tinged staple. But she’s going to make it with rice grits (cooked pieces of broken rice) and then serve it stuffed inside a fried chicken wing glazed with shitor, an umami-packed Ghanaian chile sauce that she makes from scratch. (“It’s one of the best hot sauces, in my opinion,” Dotse says.)

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She’ll serve seared scallops in a creamy palm nut soup. She’ll do a take on suya, the famously beloved well-spiced meat skewers, but she’ll do it as a single cut of grilled steak served with roasted plantains and a plantain barbecue sauce—a modern spin on a classic combination. All told, Dotse says, there will be about nine courses, including a dessert of bruléed crepes and Milo ice cream (a nod to a favorite childhood Ghanaian breakfast), and an optional wine pairing.

For Dotse, Elade Test Kitchen presents an opportunity to go even deeper in exploring her heritage. She’d done an earlier version of the pop-up under the name “Sankofa,” a Ghanaian word for the idea of using your past experiences to help you grow in the future. It was a term she felt resonated with her cooking philosophy. But as Dotse researched her family history, she learned that “sankofa” is actually a term used by Ghana’s Akan ethnic group, whereas her family is a part of the Ewe ethnic group based in Ghana’s Volta River region. She has spent the past year really trying to reconnect with those roots, taking drumming lessons with a local Ewe musician and adopting a new Ewe name for her pop-up: “Elade” means “tasty” or “appealing to the tongue” in the Ewe language, Dotse explains.

Shrimp and okra in a pool of thick red-orange sauce, served on a crystal platter.
An early test version of a Ghanaian-style okra soup that Dotse would like to serve at her pop-up. (Selasie Dotse)

In future editions of the pop-up, she’ll dig into the nuances of those cultural distinctions, serving more dishes that are specific to the Ewe people. For instance, she’d like to make a viscous okra soup known as fetri detsi, which Dotse’s family always loaded with fresh seafood like crab and shrimp, serving it with a fermented corn dough called akple for dipping and scooping.

Dotse’s hope is that other Black chefs who are frustrated by the lack of opportunities in the Bay Area fine dining scene will be able to look to her pop-ups as a model and a source of hope. She says chefs like her are tired of waiting for their white colleagues to drastically change the culture inside fine dining kitchens.

That’s part of the reason Dotse is actually leaving her current job to take on a new role: Starting in July, she’ll be a sous chef at Hi Felicia, a Black-owned fine dining restaurant in Oakland with a Black head chef.

“If these spaces aren’t going to make space for us, and try and make us feel welcome, we’re just going to have to create our own spaces,” Dotse says. “The only people who are going to look out for us are us.”

The Elade Test Kitchen pop-up will take place on Sunday, May 29, from 5–8pm, at Copas at 2223 Market St. in San Francisco. The cost of the tasting menu is $84 a person, not including the optional wine pairing. To reserve a seat during that block of time, visit Resy.

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