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A New Oakland Pop-Up Fuses Ethiopian and Ghanaian Cuisines

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Canneloni pasta tubes covered in a bright orange sauce and garnished with fresh herbs.
A Ghanaian-inspired palaver canneloni features smoked turkey and stewed greens. The dish was one course in the Ghanaian-Ethiopian tasting menu that chef Selasie Dotse served at Oakland's Cafe Colucci in September.  (Courtesy of e le aɖe Test Kitchen)

It has been a tumultuous year for Selasie Dotse. As one of just a handful of prominent Black fine dining chefs in the Bay Area, they’d been stoked to start a job at Hi Felicia, the new darling of Oakland’s upscale restaurant scene. It was the first time Dotse had worked under a Black chef-owner, and the first time they were part of a team whose explicit goal was to shake up the exceedingly white, exclusionary world of longform tasting menus. And for a while, at least, the plaudits came pouring in — until the restaurant imploded amid charges of sexual harassment, a toxic work environment and wage theft.

“I once again realized that I was working for someone who didn’t share the same values and ideas about wanting to change the industry,” Dotse says. “On top of that, I wasn’t being paid properly.”

The whole experience left such a bad taste in Dotse’s mouth that they’ve sworn off full-time restaurant gigs for the time being. Instead, they’re taking time to focus on their own pop-up business, e le aɖe Test Kitchen, through which they collaborate with like-minded chefs who share an interest in using “elevated,” Michelin-level techniques to showcase Black and African foods, flavors and stories.

Dotse’s next event is a reprise of one of their most successful pop-ups so far: a collaboration with Cafe Colucci, which was a stalwart of Telegraph Avenue’s bustling stretch of Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants before it moved to its new North Oakland location last year. Dotse, who is of Ghanaian heritage, says they never really ate Ethiopian food before moving to the Bay Area, but that they’d been tinkering with dishes that incorporated berbere from Colucci’s affiliated spice business, Brundo Spice Company. So, when the restaurant offered the chef free use of their kitchen and back patio, with the only caveat being that the pop-up had to showcase Brundo’s spices, it was a no-brainer. “It’s hard finding a space that isn’t going to take most of my profit,” Dotse says.

Diners seated at a long outdoor table enjoy a meal while sitting under festive string lights.
Dotse’s September event at Cafe Colucci was one of the chef’s most successful pop-ups. (Courtesy of e le aɖe Test Kitchen)

According to Dotse, the first edition of the Cafe Colucci pop-up, in September, was such a rousing success that they hope to continue them on a regular basis. Because the dinners are small and intimate — everyone seated around one long table — they expect the next one, on Dec. 17, to sell out in the next few days.

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For Bay Area eaters who are used to restaurants that tend to flatten “African food” into a single, monolithic cuisine, the pop-up will provide an exciting exploration of diasporic flavors. For instance, at the first pop-up, Dotse served a take on Ethiopian kitfo–style beef tartare that was seasoned with the suya spices typically used for West African grilled meats instead of the traditional berbere. As a play on asa tibs, the Ethiopian fried fish dish, Dotse created a kind of fish taco, which they topped with a Ghanaian dried-shrimp chili condiment called shito — or “XO meets chili crunch,” as they describe it.

“There are some dishes that you can tell are Ethiopian, some Ghanaian and some that are a combination of the two,” Dotse says.

December’s Ghanaian-Ethiopian pop-up will feature mostly new dishes, including sambusas filled with berbere-spiced short ribs, and a variation on doro wat, the classic Ethiopian stewed chicken, made with roasted quail and soft-cooked quail eggs.

A fried fish "taco" served on injera lined with a shiso leaf.
The asa tibs fish “taco” consisted of fried fish served on injera lined with shiso. (Courtesy of e le aɖe Test Kitchen)

Meanwhile, Cafe Colucci will provide an optional wine pairing for the meal, as well as an a la carte beverage selection that focuses on local Black winemakers such as Chris Wachira and the McBride sisters.

Dotse, for their part, says they do want to open a restaurant of their own eventually, but of course the road toward that goal is not an easy one — especially in a region as expensive and challenging for small business owners as the Bay Area. And Dotse acknowledges that the restaurant model that they want to create — a cooperative space that treats the employees’ well-being, not the customers’, as its top priority — may not be the most popular with investors. For now, the pop-ups are a way for them to put some of these ideas into practice.

“Bay Area restaurants, a lot of them say they want to change, but I haven’t really seen it,” Dotse says. “I decided to try to create this change that I’ve been trying to see.”

E le aɖe Test Kitchen’s next pop-up at Cafe Colucci (5849 San Pablo Ave., Oakland) takes place on Sunday, Dec. 17, from 6–9 p.m. A limited number of tickets ($150) for the eight-course dinner are available on Tock.

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