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Meet Khadijah Blanche of A Taste of Senegal in Little Ethiopia

Today we’d like to introduce you to Khadijah Blanche.

Khadijah, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
It all began with a love story. A former friend of mine invited my family and I over for dinner one night on Victoria Ave in mid-city. Her husband’s children had just arrived to America about six months before from Senegal West Africa, so she wanted our family to connect. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I hadn’t even heard of Senegal before, but our friendship was new and so exciting, I couldn’t resist partaking in the experience. When we arrived, the aromas nearly lifted us off our feet up the stairwell. Garlic, ginger, onion, bay leaf and locust bean… a simmering stew of ecstacy! We were guided in to sit in the living area to couches surrounding a bed sheet centered on the floor, with toddlers and babies running and entangling themselves in it. The food arrives and my friend instantly swoops the children up and we all instinctively reached in to straighten up the sheet, which turned out to be the dinner table. A huge silver platter with vegetables and lamb swimming in golden red peanut sauce drenched over white rice. This was Mafé. We all fell to the floor off of our seats and was handed a spoon. That night I became seduced, and there was nothing else I wanted to know about in life except this newfound culture, the people and the food. In 2011 I visited the family’s home in Senegal and stayed for one month.

While there, I learned how to cook some of the traditional cuisines, such as chebou jun, soupe kandia, and yassa. We would start our mornings early to begin cooking at 7am to have the meal ready by 12p. It was a beautiful production for your typical daily routine. It all took place on the rooftop, with 6-7 women on deck: 2 chopping onions, one chopping okra or cleaning fish, another stirring the pot and two more on standby with a song in their heart. Mashallah! This was living for me. So nearly every year after that, I would stay one month to learn a new dish, fall in love again and bring it home to share. I began to practice and cook what I had learned nearly everyday. Friends from the Senegalese community would gather at my house to help me with tips and support in the kitchen. Once I found confidence in my cooking, I began going around selling to business owners, then catering, then finally at farmers markets. Now, we have a humble location in the back of a mini market in Little Ethiopia Mid-Wilshire L.A., and the response has been surprisingly wonderful.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No, it hasn’t been smooth but nothing worth having comes easy of course. One of the major challenges is finding people are committed to working with you. There has been a couple of Senegalese restaurants in the past, but they haven’t lasted and so it hasn’t picked up traction like Nigerian or Jamaican foods which come from Africa or the African diaspora. Thus, people don’t want to fully commit to is development.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the A Taste of Senegal story. Tell us more about the business.
A Taste of Senegal is L.A.’s only Senegalese restaurant offering the original recipe for jolof rice. I am the lead chef and have mastered a variety of traditional dishes and beverages that captures the essence of West African cuisine. We are best known for our jolof rice and our portions are more than generous. Senegal is the originator of West Africa’s prized jolof, thus we are happy to be the only business in L.A. providing not only the finest but the original recipe for West African jolof rice.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t believe in luck, I believe in the heart’s desire, the effort to achieve it and trusting that God still takes care of the rest.

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