The famous American pastry chef keeps love, family and tradition in mind wherever he goes
In the kitchen of a small two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, a young Ebow Dadzie watched his grandmother cook. Sometimes he was asked to pass a spice or stir a pot, and sometimes he was taught an entire recipe. Usually he was content to watch Dorothy Mitchell prepare dinner for her family. No matter what he did, dad was always learning. Mitchell was a Trinidadian immigrant, as simple as grandmothers, and an ox-like woman (in Dadzie’s words) who made curry magic in one breath and booed a naughty grandchild in the next. “You talk about a woman who knows how to grind, who knows how to work hard, she was all of that,” Dadzie said of her grandmother. “She made sure everyone’s bellies were full at the end of the night. There’s a term you use when you’re poor is when you can’t eat, you “eat sleep for dinner”. She made sure we didn’t.
Dadzie has come a long way from the small, fragrant kitchen of stews and stews of Trinidadian cuisine and the warm place of childhood memory where a black and white television played the Video Music Box program on school textbooks open to a notch and well-loved table. Dadzie, who was named one of America’s top ten pastry chefs by Dessert Professional magazine in 2014, has built both literal and metaphorical skyscrapers. In 2006, he built a 16-foot replica of the Empire State Building for a Food Network competition, which won the Guinness World Record at the time. It also paved the way for black bakers to enter the competitive fine baking community. And that’s just so far; he still has a long way to go, but not before he remembers where he came from.
A chef grows up in Brooklyn
The genesis of Ebow Dadzie is relatable. As a child, he was both studious and mischievous, his left hand working to impress his computer programmer father as a future computer programmer himself while he got into trouble and stressed his mother with the right. Being part of an immigrant family in Brooklyn in the 80s and 90s might have fostered an entirely different outcome, one where “I could have been on the streets,” Dadzie said. “Growing up, that was the norm. I’m not saying I was always a good boy, because I wasn’t. There are decisions you make throughout your life that determine the outcome of your future.
However, between Dadzie and the darkest corners of New York, there was 5 feet and 11 inches of West Indian strength. Mitchell, a classic woman at heart who wrapped the fine living room furniture in plastic to keep it intact “for guests who never came,” didn’t have time for her grandson to be a homemaker. troubles. And so, she held Dad close to her, teaching him how to cook so he never needed to depend on a woman in his kitchen. She kept him informed of his roots; he used to stand there and watch her grind prunes and raisins by hand in a (clean) bin to make Trinidadian black cake. Inside of him, a love for all things food was reaching a boiling point.
“That’s the kitchen. That’s where life is,” Dadzie recalls. The air Dadzie breathed was full of the best Caribbean spices: onion, garlic, paprika, cumin. And he owed it all to a small kitchen with no stainless steel surface in sight, appliances that certainly worked but weren’t state of the art – and to Grandma Mitchell, who died years ago, and stood in the young dad’s spirit as a pillar of discipline but now shines as a beacon of determination.
As it happens, Dadzie has upheld both virtues and more in her adult life. After an (unsuccessful) attempt to become a track athlete in elementary school, the leader learned an important philosophy from his former coach: a good leader will always be better known than a talented follower. “Dedication, determination, desire and discipline” were the philosophies taught by his trainer. “For whatever you want to do in your life, you apply these four things, you will succeed.”
The recipe for success
It took some trial and error for this chef to find his direction. He tried and failed at computer programming. During his college years, he tried working for small restaurants but lost interest. He was scouring the culinary industry, looking for the right fit, and he found himself under the guidance of an executive pastry chef at the Grand Hyatt. Dadzie worked alongside the chef for the Paris Gourmet competition, after the latter saw Dadzie’s talent – although ‘I was no good’ at all at the time, Dadzie laughed – and the loss of the mentor eventually sparked a fire in Dadzie to secure one of those wins for himself.
When Dadzie looked around at the competition, he saw many talented pastry chefs, including Parisians, but few who looked like him. “This competition is kind of what sets the tone for pastry chefs who really want to succeed in their future. … So I wanted to break some boundaries and really set the tone by showing the world that we can do it too. He took third place.
The following year, in 2007, the theme of the competition was the tropical forest. Sure, there were books, websites, endless online resources about rainforests to study from, but that wouldn’t be enough. Dadzie flew to Ghana, West Africa, to be inspired by the tropical rainforests of the west-central coast of Africa. The prep was grueling: Dadzie trained and prepped seven days a week for months, and was even picked up and then dropped by a pastry coach who didn’t see enough potential in Dadzie and didn’t want to risk a streak of victories.
Dad won. He was named Pastry Chef of the Year by Paris Gourmet. He said he saw more people of color enter the competition after his win, and he described a “good feeling when you see that, because you know you’re setting a certain bar. You want everyone to know what is achievable through hard work.
And Dadzie continued to win for many years. He joined the Marriott Marquis, supervising a team of 15 pastry chefs and giving free rein to his creativity. On several occasions he has designed chocolate dresses for the Salon du Chocolat in New York. He landed teaching jobs at City Tech and Monroe College in New York, setting up the next generation of culinary titans — or rather, culinary germs, since some of his students didn’t know how to boil water. the early days – and was cooking for Meals on Wheels deliveries to seniors during the pandemic. His kitchen is now a beautiful stainless steel sweep, where he could use one or ten burners for a dish after a childhood of one-pot dinners. He now leads the New Jersey-based Dadzie Chocolates and Confections team through which he offers wedding cakes, chocolates, pastries and catering.
“If you have a gift, share it with the world”
No matter her victories, Dadzie has learned that just because you’re on top doesn’t mean your dangers are gone. they just went from an avalanche to a lightning strike. He learned this 15 years ago, when his West Indian/Caribbean restaurant in Brooklyn, Folukie, opened and closed soon after. He learned it again when he was furloughed and eventually fired from Marriott during the pandemic.
He learned it when his grandmother died.
“Dorothy Mitchell, my grandmother,” he said. “I had bought a Nikon camera and I was like, ‘Grandma, let me take a little picture of you real quick.’ No makeup, she’s just in her natural element, you know? Just giving me that sideways look that she likes to do. It was one of the last pictures taken of her. “She was a wild woman. When I was younger we had this chair it was the only one she sat in because she said it was the only one she fit in and it was the most comfortable chair , but it was a hard plastic chair. We kept [it] at the front of the house to sit in the yard. I still have this chair to this day. She passed away a few years ago, the day after Christmas. Christmas is still difficult for me.
Ultimately, Dadzie is proud of where he’s been and how far he’s come. The Dorothy Mitchell lessons that made him groan – how to trim chicken and how to cook broccoli were the basics; other lessons were a bit more untold – paid for years later when he had to be a multifaceted individual: cooking meals for the needy during the pandemic, opening a restaurant, starting a business. “By taking those lessons from the time and applying them, we come full circle. It’s come full circle, and I’m just very humbled and very grateful for these life lessons that were taught to me a very long time ago.
Dad’s advice? If you have a gift, share it with the world, but never be afraid to learn a new skill. And when he does, he thinks of grandma. “I think I made her proud.”
This article originally appeared in American Essence magazine.