If you're a culinary enthusiast searching for your next exciting dining experience, you'll want to try Ocean Hai. Situated on the white sands of Southern Florida at Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, the restaurant has been getting lots of buzz thanks to the Chef's Afro-Asian fusion-inspired menu items. As Executive Sous Chef, Chef Nana Darkwah has created special Afro-inspired menu items for the restaurant relating back to his Ghanaian roots, where he was born and raised.
Darkwah's unique experience began as a dishwasher at a local restaurant in Pennsylvania; he worked his way up to become the lead line cook at an Italian restaurant. From there, he moved to Florida, accepting a cook position at a four-diamond restaurant where he worked closely with an experienced sushi chef before joining Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach. Now, five years later, he continues to bring the same level of enthusiasm he had when he started his position at Ocean Hai.
Marrying his culinary skills and cultural background together, the Ghanaian culinary mastermind has successfully added global fusion influences to this season's menu, incorporating burrata ensalada, jollof rice, and yucca fries. We asked Chef Nana Darkwah to share his passion for food, the hospitality industry, and what inspires his innovation in the kitchen.
EBONY: Can you tell us about your childhood and how it influenced your cooking?
Chef Nana Darkwah: Living back home in Ghana, my childhood was great, watching and helping my grandmother and mother use simple ingredients to make us delicious meals every day. This has had an influence on my cooking and on making people happy with delicious food.
What inspired you to introduce Afro-Asian fusion dishes to the menu at Ocean Hai, and can you share one of your favorite dishes with us?
The inspiration behind the Afro-Asian fusion is the idea of bringing my childhood African dishes to the mainstream and a beachfront destination. It is very different from what everyone is doing, which attracts a diverse group of guests. My favorites on the menu are the Gulf grouper, merging fresh local seafood with Jollof rice and pepper sauce, traditional staples from my childhood in Ghana. Also, the chicken dish with rice and beans, bok choy, and sweet plantain which are influenced by African and Asian flavors which can have similar flavor profiles and merge well. We take every guest on a cultural journey when they come to Ocean Hai.
Can you share with us your favorite ingredient to work with and why?
Onion, garlic, and ginger are some of my favorite ingredients to work with because they bring out different flavors for different proteins and vegetables. Also, growing up in Ghana, we use these ingredients in many different foods.
How do you stay creative and motivated in the kitchen?
My motivation and creativity come from my family. When I am in the kitchen, it also comes from all the chefs and teams. I work alongside them to create an inspirational dish for all our guests. Brainstorming ideas with other chefs and cooks and working creatively together is another form of motivation.
Can you tell us about a particularly memorable meal you've prepared in your career?
The most memorable meal I have prepared in my career was when the chef I worked with in the Italian restaurant showed me how to cook Pollo ala vodka. This was the dish that started my journey.
What advice would you give aspiring chefs looking to make it in the industry?
I will advise aspiring chefs looking to make it in the industry to stay patient and humble. In my opinion, if you come into the industry thinking of making a certain rate initially, it may not be possible. You should always stay humble and patient to start from the bottom and work your way up by working hard and showing skills.