By Elle McLogan

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – At Kelewele, plantains take many forms. But there’s one thing they’ll never be: Bananas.

Founder Rachel Laryea wants customers to know that, despite similarities in appearance, plantains have a magic all their own. That’s why she’s taking them from their usual spot on the side menu and elevating them to the star of the meal.

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“Kelewele is a Ghanaian food service reimagining plantains in our mission to provide familiar yet innovative, healthy, and sustainable products to our community,” she said.

She strives to ensure that her dishes—which are all plant-based as well as plantain-based—are flavorful and filling.

Plantains become tortillas in spicy vegetable tacos known as “placos.” They’re combined with beans between a tostone bun in the chichinga burger.

Rachel grew up eating the namesake dish, a popular street food in Ghana, where her family hails from.

“It’s basically diced plantains marinated in spices and ginger and often served with ground nuts,” she said.

Her business got its start at pop-ups before evolving into what it is today: A stall within the underground food hall DeKalb Market in Brooklyn.

But the path was not always so clear.

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“I kind of have an unconventional background,” Rachel said.

She got her professional start on Wall Street. These days, in addition to running Kelewele, she’s pursuing two PhDs at Yale while teaching courses at NYU.

She says it’s the combination of the theoretical and the practical that makes up her passion. Even outside the classroom, she’s still in touch with history and geography.

“I really love the aspect of plantains being this kind of symbolic cultural representation of the African diaspora. I can be from West Africa, the next person can be from the Caribbean, and the next person from Latin America, but we all have this shared familiarity with this one superfood,” she said.

She appreciates the chance to showcase the flavors of her childhood.

“I think my mom always did a good job of making sure that I was proud to be Ghanaian,” she said. “It’s now really inspired me to do something that’s central to where my family is from.”

Dekalb Market Hall
445 Albee Square W
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(929) 322-3480

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Elle McLogan