In my conversation with chef and entrepreneur, Nina Sodji, we talk about her innovative take on traditional west African cuisine at Okra African Grill, her business ups and downs, and her passion for food and community.
Nina Sodji first immigrated to America in 1994 with a business visa, hailing from Togo, a west Africa nation. She began her career as a nurse who had a growing passion for cooking. Nina ran with her heart, opened an African grocery market in Omaha in 2004, and later added a restaurant and was successful until the 2008 Great Recession. She went on to achieve a culinary degree from Metropolitan Community College, and a bachelor’s in business management from Bellevue University. It was at MCC Nina that noticed the foods she grew up enjoying in Togo were derived from lots of cultures: French, Spanish, German, Indian and neighboring African countries. The flavors she grew up loving were a result of her country's complicated history of colonialization, invasion, and political unrest. But the flavors were magical together and sparked her curiosity in experimenting with her favorite Togolese dishes. Nina’s restaurant, Okra African Grill, is her vision to bring these dishes to life in Omaha. An homage to all African cultures and the transcontinental history that have influenced Togolese foods, her cuisine tells a complex story.