Fatmata Binta has lived in many places throughout her life, but cooking has been her passion since she was just five years old.
Born in Sierra Leone, Binta grew up among the Fulani people—one of the largest nomadic groups in Africa. She recalls spending much of her childhood in the kitchen helping her mother and grandmother prepare traditional Fulani meals. “I grew up watching them bring people together through food,” she said in an interview.
Now based in Ghana’s capital city of Accra, Binta, 37, is carrying on that tradition in style. In 2018, she launched Dine on a Mat—a pop-up restaurant that has traveled to cities in Europe, the US and Africa, giving people across the globe an opportunity to experience her home culture. She also started the Fulani Kitchen Foundation to empower and support women in rural communities across Ghana and West Africa.
In June, she won the Basque Culinary World Prize. Created in 2016 by the namesake culinary center in Spain, the award is given to a chef who is using their talent and creativity to transform society through food, which describes Binta to a tee. The organizers of the award said she was chosen out of 1,000 nominees for her “ability to showcase sustainable nomadic culinary culture and explore the diaspora of West African cuisine.”
“It was overwhelming in a very good way,” Binta said. “It means everything we’ve been working towards over the past years, it’s finally being celebrated and recognized, and it’s only the beginning of so many other things that’s going to impact lives.”
She added that being the first African to win this prestigious title, “means so much, not just for me,” but for other “aspiring chefs… (and) people who are working tirelessly behind the scenes.”