Yassin Jallow: A Gambian Entrepreneur Who Found Refuge in Cooking After Parent’s Death
Chances are you’ve come across Yassin Jallow and her Yassin’s Kitchen on Facebook videos and other social media platforms. More chances are you’ve ordered food from her on the phone or online, or ate at her spot. Her creations are very popular with foodies in The Gambia.
Yassin’s passion and desire for cooking started when she was a kid, growing up in a large Gambian family full of immediate and extended relatives. At home, cooking and providing food for all was the most important daily activity, something that inspired young Yassin’s love for cooking. “I started cooking at the age of 12 because that was my passion. Nobody taught me how to cook,” she tells The Chronicle. “What I did was when people came home from the market I would take a little bit of what they brought and cook on the side. Whenever I did, everybody would abandon other food and eat mine.”
When Yassin’s mother passed while she was still very young (after the death of her father earlier), she faced challenges growing up, and she struggled the hard way. In cooking, she found refuge, an escape route from hardship.
She left Gambia for Norway where she spent four and a half years going to a cooking school and working as a cook. Norway exposed her to both the European cuisine and the food industry.
Yassin’s career journey suffered when she moved to America with her husband and family where they’d live for 17 years.
“I had to start all over. When I went to America, they wanted me to go back to school. America is like that. When you don’t go to school there, they don’t honor your certificate or any other document that you have,” she says.
But going to school wasn’t part of Yassin’s plans at the time. Instead, she pursued a different route to the same passion – the kitchen. “I worked as a cashier and then worked for Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).”
She later started a hair dressing salon where she hired employees to work with. At the same time, Yassin started to venture into nursing as a Certified Nursing Assistant before leaving America for Canada in 2007.
While pursuing nursing, she started a new innovation in Canada. The ‘Yassin’s Kitchen Cooking Concept’ project was to showcase cooking as an endearing and noble endeavor on media platforms. “I was in my kitchen and I’m like ‘why not I create my own kitchen where I just sit, no editing, no nothing – just to be there talking (on social media video) what I am cooking and people liking it and enjoying it’.” This would prove to be the gateway to her blossoming career as a chef.
“People would inbox me asking when I’d come on and that they were learning from me. I was like wow!”
In 2016, Yassin started Yassin’s Kitchen in The Gambia to revolutionize the Gambian kitchen and transform local meals into delightful culinary adventures. “I love my country. I want to contribute to the society because to be honest with you, we are the only ones who can do it for ourselves. If we don’t do it, nobody will do it for us.”
Because of her passion for food fusion, Yassin uses her kitchen to introduce her clients to challenging and unusual recipes they might find new but delicious. While she keeps Gambia’s old traditional recipes alive, she creates new menus that are breaking down traditional barriers and putting classic ingredients on the table.
Yassin’s Kitchen is getting more and more popular and its list of clients growing bigger. Her book, “Yassin’s Kitchen: One Hundred Selected Senegambian and Western Recipes” celebrates jollof rice, peanut butter soup, and many delicious Western menus Yassin loves to cook for her clients.
“When you cook, put all your heart into it because cooking has to be from the heart,” she says.
Yassin’s Kitchen has joined force with her son’s café and lounge business; Plasta Inc Café to become Yassin’s Kitchen and Plasta Inc Café.
As part of her philanthropic projects, Yassin has been cooking and feeding the underprivileged people in The Gambia during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan for the past two consecutive years. The numbers of those she fed grew from 150 in 2017 to 250 in 2018. She’s planning to feed more this year.