< Back to Oral History project: Women at Work in San Francisco
Daughter of a Nigeria-born father and a Texas-born mother, Chiefo Chukwudebe’s culinary influences span the globe. Although she was born in Boston, Chiefo spent most of her youth on her family’s farm in Africa, where pineapples, mangoes, plantains, and poultry were plentiful. As children, she and her siblings would sneak out to the market on their own and return to the family’s kitchen to experiment. At Christmas, they begged their mother to make gumbo and cornbread dressing.
Even though food was such an important part of her childhood, when Chiefo thought about her future, she dreamt of becoming an author, a gymnast, or an engineer. But after spending time on the Ivory Coast as a Peace Corps volunteer, she found her ultimate inspiration: beesap, a drink made from hibiscus nectar. After returning to the States, Chiefo heard about La Cocina and set her sights on becoming a culinary entrepreneur. Beesap was the cornerstone of her business plan, but, after sharing some of her African dishes with friends, it became clear that she was capable of much more. She went to culinary school and, in 2005, launched Chiefo’s Kitchen to bring the food and culture of West Africa to the Bay Area. Chiefo also works to support cooperatives in the African villages where she sources some of her ingredients, with an emphasis on woman-based small businesses.
Chiefo’s food is West African, but many of her staple ingredients—okra, black-eyed peas, squash, and peanuts—are recognizable as Southern.