Ms. Vallery Lomas, an HDI Culture (Culinary) Envoy, traveled to Cotonou, Republic of Benin, to share U.S. culinary traditions with the people of Benin. The program was made available by a grant from U.S. Embassy Cotonou. Vallery presented on the history of African American cuisine, specifically, the influence of African ingredients and culinary practices in Louisiana. Her demonstrations, lectures, and workshops focused on health, entrepreneurship, and sharing American culture.
From January 31 to February 5, Vallery Lomas demonstrated the best of U.S. culinary traditions and won friends for the United States. Vallery’s program started with a collaboration with Valérie Gbaguidi, the noted Beninese chef and author of the acclaimed African cookbook Saveurs du Béni, on preparing jambalaya. The next part of the program had Vallery meet with students at a culinary institute in the Cotonou seaside neighborhood of Fidjrossè. Vallery demonstrated cooking techniques and used the opportunity to share with students the history of African-American cooking and its West African heritage.
Later that day, Vallery gave a career talk to women entrepreneurs and aspiring chefs and bakers. On February 2, Vallery and staff from the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy traveled to Tori to preside over a cooking contest. This was a unique event with contestants using firewood/coals and bricks available on farms to make the fire for cooking.
The following day, Vallery was a guest on a popular Beninese TV show where she shared recipes, demonstrated how to prepare Shrimp Etoufee, and discussed her journey to cooking. On the final day of the program, Vallery visited the Zinsou Foundation which focuses on providing free access to the arts, promoting African Art and Culture, and increasing educational advancement through cultural and artistic pursuits. Vallery also had a memorable experience visiting Ouidah and walking the Slave Route. This included seeing the “Tree of Forgetting”— commemorating the tree that was there that enslaved persons would walk around (men nine times, women seven times), so that they would forget their heritage and lives. Vallery also visited the Zomai House in which enslaved persons were held in similar conditions to slave ships, to “prepare them for their journey” as they awaited the slave ships. Vallery observed a moment of silence at the Memorial of Zoungbodji— a mass grave for enslaved persons who died in the Zomai House, were sick from being there, or exhausted. The final part of this moving visit was viewing the “Tree of Return”—where it was believed that the souls of the enslaved could return home after their death, the Door of No Return, and the beach at Ouidah.
Vallery Lomas is a renowned baker. She is a winner of The Great American Baking Show and the first Black winner of the Great British Bake Off franchise. Vallery hosts the digital show Vallery Bakes Your Questions on Food Network’s website and the Food Network Kitchen app. She has also appeared on CNN, the Today show, Live with Kelly & Ryan, the History Channel, and the Hallmark Channel. HDI is sincerely proud that Vallery Lomas is an HDI Cultural (Culinary) Envoy.
We would like to thank U.S. Embassy Cotonou for developing a superb program.
HDI is committed to highlighting U.S. culture as a method of promoting dialogue worldwide. We have worked with more than 70 U.S. Embassies and Consulates to bring American culture to countries worldwide.