Cook Like A Chef with Hawa Hassan
Hawa Hassan is a Somali-born New Yorker by way of Seattle and jack(ie) of all trades. A former model turned chef, she owns and operates African-inspired food brand Basbaas, hosts Hawa at Home on The Food Network, and has just released her latest cookbook. In Bibi’s Kitchen was inspired by the women who command the kitchen with their “matriarchal cooking.” Hassan champions community building, uplifting the underrepresented and using life to inspire (culinary) art.
Q: How has your upbringing and life up until now influenced your cooking?
Having grown up on my own in the States, I spent many days craving the cuisines of home and longing for time in my mother’s kitchen. Everything I cook now is based on my mother’s cooking or flavor combos I’ve learned from her or our time together in the kitchen.
Q: You’ve talked about “matriarchal cooking” as an influential force in your culinary development. What does that mean to you? Who are the matriarchs who inspired you?
I believe matriarchal cooking is influential in all of our lives across the globe. What I did in In Bibi’s Kitchen was highlight that influence. I’m influenced by women I’ve met on the road who invited me into their homes and taught me their cuisine. I’m also influenced by Aunties and mothers of my friends.
Q: In Bibi’s Kitchen is more than just a collection of recipes; it’s a blend of stories and the foods inspired by them. When cooking, what memories inspire you the most? I’m inspired most by being in the kitchen with my mother and sisters. With them, food is a conduit between storytelling and creating a delicious meal together.
Q: Why was it important for you to include recipes from eight countries in Africa, as opposed to recipes solely from your native home of Somalia, in In Bibi’s Kitchen?
My intention with In Bibi’s Kitchen was to tell WHOLE stories regarding the continent and how it was influenced by the Indian Ocean. I couldn’t do that just from the perspective of Somali cuisine.
Q: Xawaash is a traditional spice blend unique to Somali cooking. How would you describe it to readers who aren’t familiar with it?
Xawaash (pronounced HA-wash) comes from the Arabic word hawaij, which is used to describe Yemeni spice blends. Xawaash touches just about every Somali dish—it’s like the garam masala of Somalia. The mix of flavors is truly of the Indian Ocean, and each Somali cook prepares it differently. (See recipe in sidebar for Hassan’s take on xawaash.)
Q: Outside of your culinary pursuits, how do you champion for community and representation?
I’ve championed for my community in many ways. Most recently, I’ve been feeding frontline workers and helping out at food pantries in my neighborhood.
Q: How do you plan to use your platform and brand to champion for women entrepreneurs and chefs in the future?
I intend to use my platform by showing up as my full self and sharing any resources I’ve gathered openly.
Q: What advice would you give to women aspiring to start a business or break into a male-centered industry, like culinary arts?
Your biggest currency is being yourself. Stay true to your vision, and above all else, be equally kind to everyone you meet along the way.
Q: Having already written several cookbooks, appearing on The Food Network and launching a successful condiment brand, what direction do you see yourself going moving forward?
I’m hoping to build a global table that is reflective of the ways the whole world eats. I hope the work I put out and the product I create will always reflect that.