Meet The Chefs
Raised in Gambia, Adama Jammeh came to King County three years ago by way of St. Louis and Atlanta. She was long considered an exceptional cook by her community, who encouraged her to seek bigger opportunities. Here in the Seattle area, Adama and her sister Oumie Sallah have been able to expand their culinary skills and offerings, founding Afella Jollof Catering. After joining our Food Business Incubator last year, they have offered their mouthwatering cuisine at farmers markets, pop-ups, and catered events.
Adama explains that afella means “tastes good” in the Serer language and jollof is a local name for the people. The sisters specialize in Senegambian cuisine. Focusing on quality, health, and authenticity in their recipes, Adama and Oumie create everything down to the spices from scratch.
We spoke with Adama about the difficulties in starting a catering company, her dreams for Afella Jollof Catering, and their signature dish.
Q&A with the Chefs
Please describe your business.
Our business focuses on Senegambian food—dishes from the West African countries of Senegal and Gambia, which have a shared culture and cuisine.
Everything is authentic and we cook from scratch. We get the best ingredients and make sure they are all healthy. We don’t buy pre-cooked or pre-whatever. We make our own seasonings, which make everything so tasty! We do catering, and we are also planning to sell the spices we make from scratch.
For those of us who don’t know a lot about Senegalese and Gambian cuisine, can you describe a few dishes?
Jollof is one of our tribes in Gambia and Senegal, and jollof rice is one of our main dishes. I see it in a lot of African cuisines, but Gambia and Senegal are the origins of jollof rice! It’s fried rice, cooked with our own spices and vegetables. It’s rich in nutrients; it has everything that we need. The seasonings include garlic, herbs, ginger—all of those are good for the system. That’s what you use as the base to cook the rice. It’s something that everybody wants to taste.
And then we have the yassa, which includes grilled chicken with an onion sauce. We’re going to be introducing this peanut butter stew too, called mafé. We tried it once at [FIN’s Taste Around the Globe booth at] Pike Place, and people loved the taste. It’s one of the most nutritious dishes, made of peanut butter with a base of slow-cooked onion and tomatoes. You can eat it like a soup, but we also serve it with rice. We make it with beef, chicken, or veggies.
We have lots of dishes, so we’re going to be alternating our menu! We have a whole lot in mind that we want to add to Spice Bridge.
What challenges have you encountered in starting your business?
The challenges we’ve encountered are marketing and cooking space. Now, thankfully, we are getting FIN’s help with marketing and we are looking forward to having our own cooking space at Spice Bridge. Our hopes are really high!
So Afella Jollof Catering will have a home at Spice Bridge—that’ll be great! What is your dream for your business?
The dream for our business is for us to be well recognized, and we’re off to a good start. At Pike Place, we have people who traveled and referred people to come back. We want to show people what we can do, become well-known, and we want to grow from Spice Bridge. I know it’s going to be a long-running thing!
Can you share more about your plans for the spices you’re making?
Right now we sell them in our own community, but our hopes are to package them and sell them online, in stores, and everywhere!
I’m very impressed by what Lilian Ryland is doing. Packaging food has been on my mind, and when I saw what she’s doing, I was like, “Yes, this is what we wanted!” [Editor’s note: Lilian Ryland has grown her business, Naija Buka, while participating in our Food Business Incubator. Lilian started with catering and pop-ups, and now has a packaged product line that is available at PCC stores and online. Her success is an inspiration to Adama and other entrepreneurs, and Lilian is also a great mentor.]
Tell me a little more about you and Oumie.
We were raised learning how to cook. Our mom taught us how to cook, and then we had a passion for it. We like organizing events, hosting, cooking good food, and presenting it. We love inviting people to come over.
We’ve been known for being exceptional cooks in our community, and they started telling us that we need to do something bigger. One of our nieces hooked us up with [FIN Cultural Outreach Specialist] Njambi Gishuru, who believed we would make a good catering outfit. Njambi encouraged us to go outside our community and let people try what we make.
The most exciting thing was when we were invited for a food tasting event at the Port of Seattle, they were very impressed by our food. I’ve been in the U.S. for 16 years, and Seattle has been the best part. This is where I was able to bring my cooking skills and people know what we are capable of doing. Here we are with FIN and it is very exciting!