Tell readers about Mai’s Kitchen and when you started?
Mai’s Kitchen is a West African catering service. During the pandemic, we have been able to ship our meals all over the United States. I started Mai’s Kitchen in August of 2019. In October of 2019, I opened Dinner with Mai, which is a private dining experience for groups of 10-12 wanting to learn about West African food, culture, and tradition. I wanted to do something like this, because I felt that West African food was never looked at as something that could be considered fine dining. I wanted to showcase the culture I grew up in a more sophisticated way.
Describe your food in three words?
Flavorful, colorful and spicy.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I love people. I love serving them, helping them, and making them happy. Cooking wasn’t just something I decided to do one day, I have loved cooking since I was a little girl. I started really getting into it when I was 12 years old. I would help my mom make dinner every Sunday. It was one of my favorite things to do, I guess you could say food is my love language.
What does your business do to keep your menu new and exciting?
There is no shortage of West African dishes. With so many wonderful recipes, it’s hard to
decide what goes on the menu, which means that we are able to change things up quite
often. The thing about West African food is that it is very customizable. Cuisines differ
throughout West Africa, depending on the tribe or country, the base of many dishes is a
combination of tomatoes, onions and hot peppers. Palm oil, a red oil that adds texture and
flavor to dishes, is also commonly used in the sub-region. Other staples in West African
cuisine include okra, black-eyed-peas, sesame seeds, peanuts, ginger and rice. With so
many different ways to make a single dish, the opportunity for something new is never
ending. The menus also include several vegan dishes.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Being that I am from Sierra Leone, I wanted to share my culture in a way that allows readers
to experience a taste of it for themselves. I knew that my West African background would
allow for a genuine, one of a kind, read. I didn’t want something that sounded stale. I also
have a lot of younger family members who I love to cook for and who wanted to learn how
to make authentic food from home. There is nothing like passing down a recipe from
generation-to-generation. I want them to be able to learn the importance and uniqueness of West
African cuisine. By writing this book, I am able to share with people from all over the world part of the
beauty of West Africa, our food.
What food brings you right back to your childhood?
Fufu and Cassava Leaf Soup. Fufu, an essential food in most of West Africa, refers to a
dough made from boiled and pounded starchy ground provisions like plantains or cassava.
My mom used to make this for me all the time. This dish is especially popular in Sierra
Leone. I eat it and feel like I am home. Earlier this year, I saw that 9 million users of TikTok
participated in the #FufuChallenge. Where people record themselves purchasing and
tasting fufu, the West African staple. That was fun to witness!
What song are you embarrassed to admit that you like?
I guess I am embarrassed to admit that I now walk around my house singing Cardi B.
What is the biggest holiday for your family?
Africa, especially West Africa, is number one for having religious tolerance. I grew up in a Muslim
family, however, we celebrate all the Christian holidays. I grew up celebrating Christmas
and Easter. Christmas is the biggest for our family. We had a huge tree, with lots of
presents. Of course, there was a ton of food and Gumbe.
What are you looking forward to with warmer weather on the way?
This summer I am especially excited to reconnect with people in person. It’s been such
a year with the pandemic that I am so excited to have outdoor events with clients and
What is one memory that you can never forget?
I came to the United States when I was nine years old. In Sierra Leone, I spent a lot of time with
my grandmother. I’ll never forget how much she loved her community. I remember her
spending the entire day cooking and when I looked outside, there would be a huge line of
people waiting to receive her food. She loved to cook for them, she is my biggest
inspiration. She’s the reason I love to cook.
How can everyone keep in contact with you on social media?
I have multiple Instagram accounts that I post on regularly including @mai_burnette and
@_maiskitchen. Also, feel free to check out my website dinnerwithmai.com for upcoming
events and new recipes.