The Next Top Chefs

WI Staff Writer | 8/8/2012, 4:22 p.m.

Oye Palaver Hut to be Featured on Channel 9 "Hero Central"

It may not be unusual to see a woman walking down the streets of the District in traditional African garb. But it does cause one to take a second look when an African woman in regal dress is jumping up and down with a bunch of toddlers on the playground.

When drawing a little closer, many will recognize this woman who is affectionately called "Auntie Oye," or Vera Oye Yaa Anna of Oye Palaver Hut, a "Culinary West African Theater," as she describes her company that focuses on food, storytelling, drumming and dance.

Even more amazing is watching her supervise those same young children in the kitchen, where they learn how to cook and eat healthy foods. Some of those children end up teaching their parents how to cook those same nutritious foods at home.

Later this month, she will be featured on a segment of Channel 9 News called "Hero Central," a portion of the station's Monday news at noon when anchor and D.C. area icon, J.C. Hayward, recognizes "commitment, generosity and compassion that transform everyday people into heroes."

Yaa Anna will be honored for her program, Culinary Griots, created in 1996 which aims to educate both children and adults in preparing and enjoying nutritious foods. The oldest program developed by Palaver Hut is modeled after the culture of her homeland, the West African country of Liberia, where adults and children come together to prepare and eat meals and share stories of community life, music and songs. The goal is to gain knowledge of fresh food choices, share recipes and learn how to make low-cost, healthy choices to get both parents and children to make changes in their eating habits.

On a sunny and cooler day in late July, Martha's Table, a nonprofit agency that serves the Columbia Heights community through education, food and job opportunities, sponsored an event featuring the Culinary Griots Program. The children in Martha's Table summer programs were treated to a lunch buffet on the playground of jerked turkey, kale salad, spinach and cilantro, cous-cous, Jollof rice and Liberian rice bread, washed down with fruit tea. A smoothie stand and bowls of diced fruit were available to the children, who range in age from infants to teens. A farmer's market, "El Mercado Purlgalito" was open for them to "shop" for corn, greens, sweet potatoes, cabbage and other seasonal vegetables to take home and cook.

Five-year-old Aaron Perkins emerged from Martha's Table kitchen wiping his brow and quickly slipping out of his mini-apron and chef's hat to let loose on the playground, but first, he proclaimed, "Yes, I like to cook! I like to make cilantro and cous-cous, and I like to cook peppers, sweet peppers." Looking extremely serious, Aaron added that "I am going to be a chef," then quickly turned his attention toward another square of rice bread.

Velle Perkins, 39, noted that not only did her youngest son start cooking, but her two other boys, 12-year-old Alexander and nine-year-old Amir also cook. Her oldest, 20-year-old Anthony mentors the younger boys.