Ghanaian Cuisine on the Hilltop

Hackley Trustee Eric Gyasi ’01 Hosts  Night of Ghanaian Cuisine with Top Chef Eric Adjepong!
Global Journeys 2020 - Casten Trip: Ghana

By Wil Lobko

Although the global coronavirus crisis resulted in the postponement of Hackley’s various Global Journeys, that didn’t stop Hackley students and families from celebrating the food, flavor, and spirit of Ghana. 

On March 5th, the student-travelers for the 2020 Casten Trip to Ghana came together with their families and their trip chaperones for a signature, once-in-a-lifetime five-course meal of Ghanaian cuisine, courtesy of Top Chef Eric Adjepong and his team, sponsored by his cousin, Trustee Eric Gyasi ’01 and his wife Rae.

Chef Eric brought his award-winning team of prep chefs and service staff to create an authentic Ghanaian meal, inflected with contemporary touches. The Middle School Dining Hall, transformed with brilliant linens and floral centerpieces, filled first with the sounds of Ghanaian highlife and then with the delectable scents of the dishes prepared by Chef Eric (helped by Hackley’s own Flik staff). Through a set of five courses that reflected his upbringing in Ghana and New York, Chef Eric shared the West African cuisine that has been the center of his personal and professional life.

Throughout the evening, Mr. Gyasi kept everyone’s appetites high by providing insight into Ghanaian culture, including anecdotes about his upbringing and memories he shared in common with Chef Eric. Mr. Gyasi told students about the Ghanaian tradition of naming newborns according to the weekdays of their birth; he told them about the special enthusiasm Ghanaian people have for selecting elaborate, celebratory coffins, some of them quite whimsical, carved by professional and widely-admired craftsmen. Then, as dishes of jollof risotto and lamb with shito honey glaze appeared, Mr. Gyasi would hand off the mic to Chef Eric, who provided cultural context and personal anecdotes that revealed the origins of the cuisine for which he is such a passionate advocate. Students smiled to hear how Chef Eric, as a boy, would rise up in the morning ready for breakfast, only to be told by his grandmother that it was time to start the sauces simmering… for dinner that night! Such is the long-term, labor-intensive, deeply collaborative culinary work that gives rise to the flavors that make up the base of many Ghanaian dishes. The perspectives and priceless insights Mr. Gyasi and Chef Eric provided into Ghanaian culture are sure to enhance the experience we hope this group will have during the 2020 - 2021 school year.

Throughout the meal of abunubunu, jollof risotto, fried fufu, and bofrot, Hackley student-travelers thrilled to a meal of such richness -- their first taste of a cuisine and a culture they will long appreciate. Although they will need to wait a little longer to leave the Hilltop for Accra and Kumasi in their study of economics, performing arts, history, and culture, they took the evening meal for what it was: a celebration of Ghana, and fuel for their further learning about Ghana, its culture, and its people.

Special thanks for this Casten Trip / Global Journeys Evening go to Cyndy Jean, the Lead Chaperone for the Casten: Ghana trip, whose efforts have been expansive and exhaustive. Her Co-Chaperones, Merideth Maddox and Damon Hall, have also been essential in designing the trip and working with our student-travelers. The evening also owed everything to Hackley Trustee & alumnus Eric Gyasi and his wife Rae, who brought Top Chef Eric Adjepong and his incredible culinary team to Hackley. You can catch Chef Eric on Bravo’s Top Chef, or at his new restaurant in Washington D.C., On the Double. Finally, Hackley School is especially grateful to the Casten family for the dozens of international trips they have made possible for Hackley students and teachers, which have in many cases altered the personal and professional trajectories of those fortunate enough to have traveled.