Maplewood Park Place’s Executive Chef is now a published author.
A good meal can transport you anywhere in the world. Exploring other cultural heritages through family recipes, special celebrations, and memories are delicious ways to connect with others. Breaking bread with friends and family is as nourishing for the soul as it is for the stomach. That sense of comfort starts in the kitchen.
At Maplewood Park Place, dining is an activity to savor. In addition to high-end cuisine, good conversation with neighbors is always on the menu. Executive Chef Francis Otoo knows how to serve up both. He’s not only the man running the kitchen, but now he’s also a published author! Chef Francis Otoo began his cooking career over 30 years ago in Ghana, Africa, where he was born. He was greatly influenced by the traditional Western African dishes his grandmother taught him to make.
“My grandmother would say, ‘You need to learn to cook for when you get married. In case your wife leaves you, you can take it from there.’” Chef Otoo laughed. He went to culinary school at a young age and began his career in the kitchen before moving to the United States. He first started at Maplewood Park Place in the early 2000s but took a brief hiatus before returning as the executive chef. Chef Otoo is one of the most beloved team members at Maplewood Park.
When Chef Otoo published his book Serving Presidents and Royals: A Memoir of an African Chef late last year, he already had a queue of readers clamoring for signed copies. Chef Otoo moved to the United States in the 1990s to be the executive chef at the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Over the course of his career, he’s created menus for hundreds of world dignitaries. His book tells the story of his beginnings in West Africa, his journey through Western culture and of fellow chefs who have inspired his own cooking. While this book isn’t technically a cookbook, his memoir will fit nicely among your worldly food publications and perhaps inspire you to attempt some West African dishes yourself.
“I’ve wanted to write the book for a while, but I never knew how to get it to a publisher or where to start until a catering client took a big interest in me and my work. I was able to travel throughout Ghana and learn more about the different regional cuisines to finish the book,” he said.
Dinner time at Maplewood Park Place is a great chance for our owner-residents and staff to interact and get to know each other. Chef Otoo has a great rapport with everyone at Maplewood, and this book is another way for the community to get to know him and learn what has inspired him to be the chef they see today.
Inspiring the Next Generation
A good chef makes cooking look easy, but anyone who’s ever cracked an egg knows there’s more to cooking than meets the eye. Chef Otoo relishes the opportunity to nurture young cooks and empower existing cooks in his kitchen. As the executive chef, he manages the entire culinary team at Maplewood and oversees hiring. His inspiring leadership style allows for a lot of tasty creativity.
“What I look for is commitment and dedication. One woman in my department applied as a dishwasher, but during the interview, I found she was overqualified. She said she had never cooked professionally before, but I saw the potential in her. I knew if she gave it a chance, we could make her a great asset to the team, and she continues to be.” Chef Otoo explained.
Feeding a Community
Chef Otoo has cooked in many kinds of kitchens but running dining service for over 200 people a night is impressive for even the most accomplished cooks. He loves to mingle with residents and truly values their feedback.
He works closely with the resident advisory board to incorporate their personal tastes as well as their own cultural dishes. Last month he helped host a Seder dinner for the community. No detail was overlooked, and the delicious traditional meal was served with all the rituals and readings treasured by Jewish and non-Jewish guests alike. He received many compliments from owner residents who were blown away by the little touches that made their celebration so unique.
In addition to creating every menu and sourcing all the ingredients as locally as possible, he makes every week special by taking owner-residents around the world in 80 plates, if you will. Each week is a new theme, and no two menus are the same. His goal is for residents never to get bored. He’s found that world cuisine sparks conversations between diners about their own world travels. Maplewood Park Place is home to a well-traveled set, and you’d be hard-pressed not to learn a new and exciting tidbit about your neighbor over one of Chef Otoo’s sensational meals. Be sure to check out his memoir and learn a little more about our wonderful chef.
Are you tired of cooking or just plain bad at it? The good news is that you don’t have to rely on your own skills to enjoy a restaurant-quality meal. At Maplewood Park Place, every night is a new adventure in dining. Join us for a meal and see, or taste, for yourself. Call 301-571-7441 today to schedule your visit.