Small bites: West African dinner at the West End Bakery and Café

BEATS AND BITES: Agya Boakye-Boaten, director of Africana studies at UNC Asheville, will combines his passions for music and cooking at his inaugural West African-themed dinner, Mukase. Photo by Thomas Calder

“I have always loved cooking, but my first passion has always been music,” says Agya Boakye-Boaten, director of Africana studies at UNC Asheville. On Sunday, Feb. 24, the master drummer will combine his two lifelong interests in his inaugural West African-themed dinner, Mukase, at West End Bakery and Café.

The evening will begin with an optional drumming lesson taught by Boakye-Boaten and Adama Dembele, a 33rd-generation djembe player from Ivory Coast. The tutorial, which can accommodate up to 20 players, will be first-come, first-served.

Following the music lesson, food will be served, including spicy beef or mushroom kabobs, yam balls made with locally grown sweet potatoes and kelewele (fried plantain). Diners can anticipate notes of curry, garlic, peanut flour and ginger among the recipes’ seasonings. These ingredients, Boakye-Boaten explains, are staples in his native country of Ghana.

Storytelling will accompany the meal, as will a reading by Mildred Barya, Uganda poet and assistant professor of English at UNCA.

Boakye-Boaten hopes that Mukase, which means kitchen in Akan (the principal language of the Akan people of Ghana), will be the first of many such dinners. “If it goes well, we’re looking at doing it probably every month with a different thematic idea … that includes different parts of the African continent,” he says.

In the meantime, Boakye-Boaten hopes the inaugural gathering will leave attendees with a stronger sense of unity. “I’m looking to re-engage the commonality of our human experience,” he says. “All people have stories. And so I hope that this event is a community reintegration of ideas that revolve around our core humanity … so that when people leave, they think, ‘Wow! I thought I was so different, but I could find myself in these West African traditions.’”

Mukase runs 6-8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, at West End Bakery and Café, 757 Haywood Road. Tickets are $25 in advance/$30 at the door. To purchase, visit

The Great Pickle-Off

The Cut Cocktail Lounge in Sylva will host a pickle-off on Saturday, Feb. 16. Those interested in competing should bring a single jar with enough pre-cut pickles to share with guests and judges. Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place, as well as the people’s choice. “The people of the Appalachian Mountains love their vinegars and pickles,” says Jacque Laura, co-owner of The Cut. “And, boy, are folks great at so many different brines.”

The Great Pickle-Off runs 7-10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at The Cut Cocktail Lounge, 610 W. Main St., Sylva. The event is for those 21 and older. For more, visit

Cajun Cook-off

Asheville Mardi Gras, a local volunteer-run arts and culture nonprofit, will host its ninth annual Cajun Cook-off at Salvage Station on Sunday, Feb. 17. Professional and amateur chefs will compete, offering up their takes on Cajun cuisine. Participating restaurants include HomeGrown, Biscuit Head, Oyster House Brewing Co., Chupacabra Latin Café, Gastro Pub at Hopey, Stable Café at Biltmore, Sugar Skulls Authentic Cajun and Bebettes Beignets & Coffee. Amateur and unaffiliated chefs include Matt Grush, Ken Sampler and Debrah Carpenter Dejernette. Featured judges are AUX Bar co-owner and chef Steve Goff, chef Chazzy Edwards of Deli Llammma Food Truck and Sara Widenhouse of Lucious Liquor Ice Cream. The event will also feature prize drawings and live music by Zydeco Ya Ya. A canned food drive for MANNA FoodBank will be held during the event.

The cook-off runs noon-5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at Salvage Station, 468 Riverside Drive. Entry is $10 for AMG members/$20 for nonmembers. For more, visit

Sunday Supper honors Black History Month

Benne on Eagle continues its Sunday Supper Series in February in honor of Black History Month. Each Sunday this month, the restaurant will create a three-course meal based on the recipes of established African-American chefs, including Edouardo Jordan, Mashama Bailey, Nina Compton and Carla Hall. According to the event’s Facebook page, the communal setting encourages guests to share plates as well as stories.

The next dinner runs 6:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at Benne on Eagle, 35 Eagle St. For more, visit

The Corner Kitchen reunion dinners

Joe Scully, chef and co-owner of The Corner Kitchen, welcomes back the restaurant’s former chef, Josh Weeks, for a pair of collaborative dinners the last two Wednesdays of February. Menu details will be announced before each event. Reservations are recommended.

The dinners will run 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, and Wednesday, Feb. 27, at The Corner Kitchen, 3 Boston Way. To make reservations, call 828-274-2439. For more, visit

Asheville Bread Festival

The 15th annual Asheville Bread Festival is still a few months out, but tickets for its April 13-14 workshops are now available. Sarah Owens, a James Beard award-winning cookbook author, will be this year’s headliner. Owens will lead two of the festival’s 18 total workshops. Additional courses will be hosted by Amy Halloran, Sarah Black, Kaley Laird, Jennifer Lapidus and Harry Peemoeller. A complete list of classes and instructors was unavailable at press time.

The 15th annual Asheville Bread Festival runs Saturday-Sunday, April 13-14. Workshop prices, times and locations vary. To purchase, visit


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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