Yollande Deacon describes herself as a dreamer, idealist and food lover with a passion for helping her community. Her best memories include cooking, trading stories and creating amazing recipes with her friends, sisters and family in Cameroon, Africa.
It's no surprise, then, that her new entrepreneurial venture, Afro Fusion, would aim to share with the world the joys of discovering and cooking authentic African food while entertaining friends and family in an African-inspired home setting.
Deacon was raised in the small town of Mbouda, Cameroon. A native of the Bamileke tribe, a Bantu ethnic group in West Africa, she took part in the ways of her tight agricultural community where respect for nature and habitat was a way of life.
Growing crops, tilling the land and harvesting the fruits of their labor were family affairs. Although her parents were teachers, they made it a point to teach Deacon both the values of academic education and those of supporting generations of agricultural tradition and practice.
"As a girl, I learned very early in life that my primary role in my tribe included preparing food, hosting and feeding the family and community at large," Deacon recalls. "For me, as for most African women, preparing and serving food is more than a meal but a loving, caring and bonding social experience."
After graduating from college in Africa, Deacon came to the United States on scholarship to complete her M.B.A. at Marquette University as part of an exchange program with the Catholic University of Central Africa. During her first few years in Milwaukee, she not only gained practical knowledge and business acumen, but also the desire to share her experiences with the people of Wisconsin.
Afro Fusion is a concept rooted in African tradition that aims to assist consumers in rediscovering the simple joys of cooking natural, flavorful and healthy meals together. The brands showcase the versatility, uniqueness, heritage, beauties and treasures of tribal Africa through the eyes of a well-traveled native African who now calls Milwaukee home.
Afro Fusion brands include African spice blends and sauces, kitchen and home products, hostess fashion pieces, cookbooks and on-demand cooking classes and personal chef services, which are taught by Deacon in a commercially accredited kitchen and online through LivePlate.
Afro Fusion will debut its product line and food offerings at African World Festival Aug. 4-5.
Although she isn't formally trained, Deacon learned her craft from the best – the real women who surrounded her while growing up, including her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, aunts, sisters and friends.
"My mother owned various five-star restaurants in Cameroon where each of us worked and became, by public recognition, African chefs," she recalls. "I believe cooking food is an art. It can be learned. But, you have to have the flair, the right instincts, the talent."
She also clarifies that her business, overall, is about far more than simply selling products.
"It is sharing the story of an untapped culture – a value system based on the sense of family, community and the love of nature," she says. "It's about using the highest level of integrity to recreate flavors, fashion and trends that give these communities in Africa a voice – a point of view – on the global scale."
In kind, Afro Fusion emphasizes eco-friendly manufacturing and fair buying practices as a matter of operation.
"We go the extra mile to source most of our base products from talented, passionate and dedicated farmers, artists and craftsmen in Africa using fair trade practices," Deacon explains. "We are connected with villages in Cameroon – including my hometown Mbouda, Bafang, Bafoussam and Dschang – and in Ghana, where we are currently empowering unknown artists and farmers to showcase their work and economically uplift their communities with 'Fair Trade, NOT Aid.'"
Afro Fusion will also aim to do good for African students through a non-profit arm. The Afro Fusion Cuisine Education for Africa Inc. hopes to reinvest 15 percent of net earnings in education and scholarship funding to send more young girls in West Africa to high school and college.
"Our target for 2013 is to paint my hometown high school and provide 10 scholarships to the most deserving kids, especially females that are marginalized and vulnerable," Deacon explains. "I know first-hand the power of a scholarship. Without it, I would not have studied at Marquette University and Afro Fusion Cuisine would not exist."
Deacon invites customers from every walk of life to join her in exploring the sensory pleasures of her product line.
"I am eager to take you on an emotional and magical journey, where you connect with the soul of Africa that you may not know," she bids. "Dare to follow me, explore, discover and adopt. I believe through sharing our cultures we contribute to global dialogue and overall creating a more cohesive global community."
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.