Professionally trained chef, entrepreneur, and Community Development Leader, Malvin Wright, of Wright of Way Consultancy Group, has the vision to introduce Londoners to the largely unexplored African, Black Caribbean culinary pallet and cooking traditions through his unique new tourism initiative ‘African, Black Caribbean (ABC) Food Week’.

Named a 2021 London “Spark” Grant and Mentorship Program winner, Wright will receive a $3,000 grant as well as mentorship from a tourism innovator who will work to support Wright in propelling his initiative through its next stages of development.

Identifying an opportunity to pioneer a city-wide, immersive food experience surrounding African, Black Caribbean (ABC) food in London, Wright pitched ABC Food Week to the London “Spark” Program. The event aims to highlight the diversity that exists within ABC cuisine, introduce Londoners to the largely unexplored ABC culinary pallet and cooking traditions, promote ‘intra-tourism’ within London, and provide equitable spaces for Black culinary creatives.

The goals of ABC Food Week are five-fold. During the week-long summer event, Londoners and people from the surrounding area are encouraged to:

(1) Visit an African, Black Caribbean (ABC) restaurant in London

(2) Order food online at least 3 times during the week from an ABC restaurant

(3) Visit, shop, and tour one of the 4 ABC grocery stores in London

(4) Attend one of the Pop-ups that will take place during the week, and

(5) Attend one of the online cooking classes.

This is what equity looks like. It is not simply about opening spaces so that Black people can participate. It is also about creating economic opportunities for Black people within our communities to excel and flourish. The ask from an equity standpoint is that people from outside those communities be willing to step into those communities, step into the unknown.

Malvin Wright, Community Development Leader

ABC Food Week will provide an immersive culinary experience on a city-wide scale, creating equitable spaces for Black chefs as well as inviting the wider London community to engage with ABC foods and communities. During the week, Londoners will be encouraged to not only order from ABC restaurants but further to understand and participate in the whole ABC culinary process from shopping, to preparing, to eating.

“See this food. Touch this food. Buy this food. Cook this food. Experience that culinary history that exists,” explains Wright. And this is not just an event for the majority population. “This project is also for us as African, Black and Caribbean people, because even amongst ourselves we do not know the food traditions that exist elsewhere.” With over 50 countries in Africa and 26 in the Caribbean, there is vast culinary diversity to explore.

To increase culinary diversity and create equitable spaces, Black culinary creatives without brick and mortar spaces will be provided ‘ghost kitchens’ where they can host Pop-up culinary experiences throughout the week.

Wright’s vision is rooted in his diverse education and work experiences. Wright graduated from George Brown Culinary School and worked as a professional chef in Toronto before obtaining a University degree, earning an MBA, and pursuing a career in his chosen field of International Development. While leading food security, malnutrition, and community development projects in East and West Africa for Oxfam, Action Against Hunger, and UNICEF, Wright was exposed to “the most amazing street food” from grubs to palm wine to millet beer.

After 12 years abroad, Wright and his family returned to Canada, relocating to Nunavut where he and his wife, Maryam, began cooking, combining “country food; caribou, char, whitefish, and muskox, with African culinary techniques and spice blends”.

Now in London, the Wrights have created a curated culinary space, Yaya’s Kitchen, which delivers “the black experience through food” via unique Supper Club events showcasing diverse African cuisine, aromas, and preparations.

Selling out 2-3 months in advance, the Wrights have seen firsthand Londoner’s appetite for African cuisine. The London “Spark” Program selection committee concurs.

There were 19 applications submitted to the 2021 London “Spark” Program. Following a 30-second video pitch and a short written proposal, Wright was shortlisted and invited to present his idea at a virtual Pitch Session on February 3rd. Of the five presenters, Wright was recognized as one of three London winners.

While Wright is delighted to receive the $3,000 grant, the mentorship opportunity especially excites him. “It is not just about creating equitable spaces, oftentimes, you need to have a mentor in your corner, someone willing to go to bat for you.” Wright will be paired with a tourism innovator and mentor to support him as he begins the next stages of development.

Wright’s ABC Food Week event provides an innovative opportunity for Londoners to immerse themselves in African, Black Caribbean food, history, and culinary traditions, all while staying in London. The event promotes intra-tourism, meaning travel within one’s own city, and seeks to diversify the definition of eating local.

The eat local movement is well-established in London, however, Wright emphasizes that there is little or no diversity in that conversation. Wright hopes to change this narrative and promote the inclusion of ABC cuisine in eating local conversations and practices.

From a tourism standpoint, Wright sees ABC Food Week as an opportunity to encourage both intra-tourism and cross-city travel, as Londoners seek out ABC restaurants and grocery stores. ABC Food Week promotes discovering the diversity that exists within London already, rather than leaving London for different experiences or culinary cuisine. The opportunity to explore and practice intra-tourism is especially relevant in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, while out-of-city travel is restricted and supporting local businesses is paramount to London’s economic health.

“New ideas, creativity, and innovation are critical to building our local economy and charting a path for a prosperous future,” says Christina Fox, CEO of TechAlliance Southwestern Ontario. “A weekend to devour delicious cuisine, ABC Food Week also provokes cultural exploration and a unique connection to the community.”

The London “Spark” Program is a partnership between the Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab and the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport Tourism & Culture Industries, Southwest Ontario Tourism Corporation, Tourism London, Fanshawe Leap Junction, London Economic Development Corporation, and TechAlliance of Southwestern Ontario.

The program’s goal is to find, foster and support new tourism ideas, experiences, and partnerships that will enhance current offerings, address gaps or challenges, motivate travel and longer stays and increase year-round visits in the region.

This summer, ABC Food Week invites Londoners to take a culinary trip to discover, support, and celebrate local African, Black Caribbean businesses and cuisine, all while shopping, buying, and eating locally right here in London.

Authored by: Maya Kelly