Carol Z. Shane
Ramson Ayuba, who cooks authentic Ghanaian food at the Real Good Kitchen under the name Kandilige Spicy Food and sells it regularly at Crafty Bastard Brewery in downtown Knoxville, has quite a story to tell.
Born and raised in Ghana, West Africa, as a young man he became distressed to see beautiful seaside property being trashed and defiled. When he expressed concern to some of his older relatives, they revealed some surprising information: that piece of land was actually owned by his family.
Ramson and his brother started clearing the land in the late ’90s. “We thought ‘it is by the sea; people will come here.’ We brought an ice chest, put in a few drinks. We sold the drinks. Then we built a structure, brought in electricity.”
By early 2001 they were operating a business there. “We wanted to make it a restaurant so that people can sit and enjoy the breeze. Something to make people’s lives better.” Ramson became the chef, cooking recipes his mother had taught him.
Now a successful Ghanaian tourist and local destination, Osekan Beach Resort is currently run by Ramson’s cousin.
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It was at the restaurant that he met his American wife, Amina, who was visiting the country. It was love at first sight; they married, and in 2018, along with daughter Firdaus, moved to America.
Settling in Knoxville, Ramson first found work at McDonald’s, then Walmart, then CVS. Through it all, he kept cooking, and his food became so popular that he was able to make it his full-time job.
But that wasn’t enough. Amina says Ramson was still driven by the desire to make people’s lives better. “He always knew that he wanted to have a nonprofit.”
The two began brainstorming. They began to notice the violence and poverty on the east side of the city. They noticed what schoolchildren were eating between the end of the school day and the start of sporting events. “They’re eating a lot of junk,” says Amina.
They went into action, giving away 50 pounds of grilled chicken at the Juneteenth Parade. Then they popped up at a soccer practice.
Amina says, “the kids were eating the jollof rice” – a Ghanaian dish cooked with tomato sauce. “They would drag their parents over, saying, ‘this is where the rice is.’ It was full of zucchini and mushrooms and onions. They ate it and ate it and ate it! We thought, ‘why don’t we pop up at the games and get them to eat fresh vegetables?’”
The Kandilige Community Foundation, founded last month and partially funded by Kandilige Spicy Food, is still in its infancy but is already a 501(c)3, and the Ayubas have big plans. They are partnering with Beardsley Farm for their produce and are seeking more partners and more funding.
“I believe partnerships are important,” says Amina. “We don’t want to duplicate any services, but the chef wants to feed children!” Their goal is to provide healthy meals to 200 children a day. In addition, they want to sponsor trips to Ghana, so that kids can be immersed in another culture.
“We just get out there and do what we know to do. He cooks, and we serve the community.”
Find Kandilige Spicy Food on Facebook, and at instagram.com/kandiligespicyfood.