Q&A with NGI Alum, Chef Kofi | Natural Gourmet Institute

Q&A with NGI Alum, Chef Kofi

Posted May 9, 2017

Christopher “Kofi” Walker is a recent graduate of the Chef’s Training Program. He came to NGI with a unique background in food, as he learned to cook for his family at a young age and served in the military for several years as a Culinary Specialist. Read on to learn how Kofi’s experience in the military and his time as a student in the Chef’s Training Program helped shape him into the chef he is today.

How did you become interested in food?

I always had an interest in food. From the age of 12 I was in kitchen cooking meals for my family as my mother was pregnant at the time. I can still remember the first meal I cooked – bully beef (Jamaican-style corned beef) and white rice.

You enlisted in the military as a Culinary Specialist in 2010. What was this experience like?

My experience as a Culinary Specialist (92G) in the army was pretty intense, but worthwhile, as I had the opportunity to cook for hundreds of people all around the world.

What was the most challenging part of being a chef in the military?

The most challenging part about cooking in the military was cooking food in some of the most devastating areas like Afghanistan.

What has been the biggest challenge in adjusting to your life as a chef now as opposed to cooking for the military?

The biggest challenge so far has been adjusting to cooking large bulks of food in the military to now preparing fine dinning, quality meals.

What was your “Aha” moment in wanting to transition to a plant-based diet?

My “Aha” moment was when I realized that there are delicious and nutritious vegan proteins that could help me transition into eating more plant-based meals.

NGI-Chef-Kofi

What drew you to the Chef’s Training Program at Natural Gourmet Institute?

I didn’t just want to attend any regular culinary school, that focuses heavily on meat and dairy. I could not relate in that environment. The Chef’s Training Program at NGI was the perfect fit for me, as it focuses on sustainable foods and respects the earth’s natural resources.

Can you tell us about your experience applying to the Chef’s Training Program?

My experience at NGI was amazing. The entire application process was very easy and stress-free.

What was your favorite part of culinary school?

My favorite part of culinary school was working with Chef Rich and Brunch Day, where our class executed a special brunch buffet for friends and family.

How did your experience in the military give you a unique perspective as a culinary student?

Well, my perspective was pretty tunnel visioned. I think food service across the board is pretty much similar in principals – long hours and short breaks. So, attending culinary school was no surprise to me. The same way I was trained at NGI to be a chef was the same way the army trained me as a Culinary Specialist.

You have a lot of exciting plans now that you’ve graduated from the Chef’s Training Program. Can you tell us what you’re currently working on?

Currently, I started my personal private chef business called Dine369 located in Miami, Florida. I also work at Plant Food and Wine Miami. I’m putting in a lot of work!

Each year, a $5,000 military allowance is provided as a tuition credit to a maximum of 10 Chef’s Training Program applicants who have served in the United States Armed Services funded by Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts. Applicants for this award do not need to be eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Natural Gourmet Institute also accepts Post 9/11 GI Bill funds for tuition payment.

369 INFUSED BOWL – CALLALOO KEEN-WA STIR FRY WITH INFUSED CANDIED PLANTAINS, CUCUMBER PIKLIZ & JERK MUSHROOMS

(Yield: 3 bowls)

Ingredients

For the Jerk Mushrooms:

  • 3 portobello mushrooms, stem removed
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 1/2 onion, small dice
  • 2 tablespoon mild jerk seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon organic cold-pressed canola oil
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 cup water

For the Callaloo Keen-wa:

  • 2 teaspoons infused avocado oil
  • 2 scallion, bias cut
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 1 teaspoon scotch bonnet pepper, minced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, smallest you find
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh callaloo (the edible greens on an amaranth plant)*
  • Reserved liquid from cooked mushrooms
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 1/2 cups steamed, quinoa

*Feel free to substitute these leafy greens with collard greens, spinach, or a mix of both

For the Infused Plantains:

  • 1/4 cup organic cold-pressed canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon infused oil
  • 1 plantain, sliced into 2-inch long pieces (you should get 4 pieces)
  • 1/8 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon agave
  • 1 teaspoon hemp seeds

For the Cucumber Pikliz:

  • 1/2 cucumber, seed out middle, sliced 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/2 onion, 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper, minced
  • 2 lime, juiced
  • 1 sour orange, juiced
  • 1/8 teaspoon clove
  • 6 pimento berries (or whole allspice)
  • 1 tablespoon infused oil
  • Salt to taste

Procedure:

  • For the Jerk Mushrooms
    1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Add all ingredients to medium bowl, except water. Carefully massage the mushroom till evenly coated. Add more oil and salt if needed.
    2. Transfer mushrooms to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
    3. Pour water into mixing bowl, mix with herbs and spices, pour on top of mushroom leaving bowl clean.
    4. Bake mushrooms for about 15-20 minute, flipping them over two times throughout the process.
    5. Transfer mushroom back to bowl to cool. Reserve liquid. Once mushrooms are cool enough to touch, slice mushrooms diagonally, 1/4 inch thick. Put aside.
  • For the Callaloo Keen-wa
    1. Heat oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add scallions, ginger, and pepper and sauté for 3-5 minutes.
    2. Add cherry tomatoes, cover pan, adjust flame to low, and allow it to sweat for 5 minutes.
    3. Turn the heat to medium-high, add callaloo (or substituted leafy greens), reserved liquid from cooked mushrooms, salt, thyme, and onion powder. Sauté till callaloo (or substituted leafy greens) is wilted, but is still bright in color.
    4. Add quinoa, mix well, and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat then reserve.
  • For the Infused Plantains
    1. Heat canola oil and 1 teaspoon infused oil in a medium sauté pan on low-medium heat.
    2. Add plantains to pan and evenly fry them on all sides, until they are golden brown.
    3. Transfer plantain to a medium bowl, and add garam masala, salt, cayenne pepper, and agave to bowl. Toss plantains until they are evenly coated. Garnish with hemp seeds then reserve.
  • For the Cucumber Pikliz
    1. In a medium mixing bowl, toss cucumber and onion together. Add pepper, lime juice, orange juice, clove, and pimento, and toss together until evenly coated. Mix in salt and oil, transfer mixture to a container, and refrigerate.
  • To assemble
    1. Start with Callaloo Keen-wa on the bottom of the bowl. Add infused plantains, cucumber pikliz, and jerk mushrooms on top. Serve warm.