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Detroit-based East African restaurant finalist for top US restaurateur award

Hamissi Mamba of Baobab Fare   -  
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Carlos Osorio/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved


The owners of an East African eatery in Detroit are among the dozens of finalists for this year’s prestigious James Beard Chef and Chefs Awards.

The nominees cover a diverse range of cuisine and chef experience, a recent shift following turbulent pandemic-era years for the James Beard Foundation.

The most-anticipated categories include awards for outstanding restaurateur, chef, and restaurant.

For Hamissi Mamba and Nadia Nijimbere -- who own Baobab Fare in Detroit -- a win among the five finalists in the restaurateur category would be incredible.

The couple fled Burundi about a decade ago and faced a difficult road as refugees in the United States.

“We didn't speak the language. You can imagine how life was not easy for both and couldn't get a job,” says Mamba.

Then they had the idea that, to survive, they would open a restaurant.

What began as a pop-up in 2017, became a full-blown eatery in 2021, and the couple recently purchased their second brick-and-mortar location in Detroit.

The restaurant specializes in dishes like flash-fried fish, eggplant stew, and slow-roasted goat shank, alongside plantains and rice.

“Actually, this is our third year being nominated, as semi-finalist first, different category at James Beard. And this year was very, very special because we were nominated for the finalist as Outstanding Restaurateur.”

Baobab is often packed with people and within a few months of its opening, it was named one of the 11 best new restaurants in the country by the popular food website, Eater.

The James Beard, the culinary world’s equivalent of the Oscars, will recognise restaurants and chefs in 22 categories at a ceremony in Chicago on Monday.

“This is already a win for us, because just being in the final, you know, travel to Chicago, it’s just amazing. It’s a big deal,” says Mamba.

The couple see the restaurant as more than just a business, but a place for the whole community, with most of their employees fellow refugees.

“We inspire a lot of refugees. Refugees who are coming to this country without hope and one day thinking that they can win this kind of title. It's a big deal for us, because we want to show people that this world can be equal,” he says.

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