When ‘Yemisi Awosan was in college, she was almost always spending her free time cooking up West African food in the dorm kitchen with friends. “People are always curious about what culture I’m from. When you say ‘Africa,’ where in Africa?,” Awosan explains. “A lot of people have not traveled there so for me, I made that connection [that] if I share my food, it in turn transports people to understand what my culture is about.”
Food was something she held onto when seeking connection with others. After graduating, Awosan worked in fashion buying for 15 years. Throughout that journey, whether she was moving to new cities or meeting new acquaintances, she was opening up her home to share a meal. “I realized I spent a lot of my time either cooking for friends or meeting people through food,” Awosan says. It dawned on her that her food could form a business—especially because her college friends who remained in touch always begged her to ship some of her dishes to them across state lines.
In 2014, Awosan began her career as a personal chef and caterer, abandoning her corporate path in fashion. Although her clients loved her meals, they also questioned if there was a way to continue enjoying her cuisine without having to have her over every day. This is when the idea for Egunsi Foods, a mere seed that lived in the back of Awosan’s mind, began to sprout.
The first pre packaged soup product Awosan made launched in July of 2017 at a Whole Foods in Harlem, and since then, Awosan has come out with a variety of soups and pepper sauces that can be shipped directly to one’s door.
“For me, my product is an experience on West African flavor. I wanted to look at the food of that particular region,” Awosan says. “There is a lot of commonality but of course the way we prepare is different. I’m Nigerian, I’m Yoruba, and I was also raised in the Northern part of Nigeria. So I kind of cook from that perspective.”
Egunsi is named after egusi, a protein-packed seed common in Nigerian cooking and the center of some of Awosan’s heritage. “Even though I was born and raised in the northern part of Nigeria, my parents are Ijesha,” Awosan explains. Ijesha people are a subethnic group of the Yoruba people and, according to Awosan, are well-known for their dish of egusi and pounded yam. “For me, that’s my favorite dish. Because my parents are Ijesha and I am Ijesha, I just love egusi and the versatility of it.”
Now, at the helm of her own brand, Awosan wants to celebrate the diversity of West Africa—the regions, the dialects, the ingredients, and the culture—through food. “I want to represent the culture in a way that makes other people want to try it,” she says. “My main mission is to really express the culture of my people and of what I grew up with through the food that I’m presenting to the world.”
And with that mission, Awosan wants people to stop being intimidated by recipes they’re unfamiliar with. “We all use the same ingredients. Everyone uses tomatoes, everyone is familiar with kale and potatoes,” she says. “I’m trying to help people understand that the ingredients that you’re using are not strange. Food is fun!”
Her Cape Verdean kale soup recipe gets back to her cooking roots from over a decade ago in the dorm room kitchen among friends. “My friends [are] a big part of what I’m doing now. We shared food, we shared different stories about our culture.” This Cape Verdean soup comes by way of Awosan’s friend, Yolanda (fondly known as Yoyo). “At the time, I didn’t even know Cape Verde was on the continent of Africa,” Awosan says, laughing. “But the fact that I’m doing West African food as my company, and it is a country in the region of West Africa, [means a lot]. It’s just a [dish] that brings a lot of memories of college for me.”