July 20, 2017

Khalilah Coombs, Chef/Owner of Chakula Catering

“Everyone can do something to give–be it $50, $10, or $1–and every bit counts. The more Chakula becomes successful, the more bits I can give.”

I hail from a creative family–my sister plays violin and hosts art and music showcases, my mom plays piano, and I play in a chamber ensemble, been playing cello since I was 9. For me, food is another art form that I’ve experimented with for years. When I was two, my mom caught me mixing lord knows what in the fridge at night. I told her I was ‘cooking’ a feast for everyone.”

Chakula Catering, Khalilah Coombs
Chakula Catering, Khalilah Coombs

As someone of Jamaican descent, I grew up around curry chicken, escovitch fish, and plantains. I started catering a year and a half ago after my sister, who loves my cooking, asked if I could serve guests at one of her showcases. I sold out of every single menu item! I got amazing feedback after catering more events and took it further, starting the business for myself. Now, I’m head chef at a new café opening in Bed-Stuy featuring Caribbean and African fused dishes. I am fortunate to do what I love in the neighborhood I’ve called home all of my life.”

Chakula Catering, Khalilah Coombs
Chakula Catering, Khalilah Coombs

‘Chakula’ means ‘food’ in Swahili–largely spoken in East African regions like Kenya and Tanzania. I knew the word from years of celebrating Kwanzaa growing up. I’ve been told Chakula also sounds like my name, Khalilah, so it fit. Many Jamaicans are of Ghanaian descent and share connections to West African cuisine. I primarily prepare Caribbean, African and Latin American dishes, all within the African diaspora with many similar ingredients. But, as my business tagline says, I make everything from ‘Ital to Italian’ (Ital is a vegan diet developed by the Rastafarian religion focusing on the pure, natural form of foods). I love making pate a choux, truffles, stuffed branzino, and more.”

Chakula Catering, Khalilah Coombs
Chakula Catering, Khalilah Coombs

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Khalilah attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Arts and Performing Arts to study cello. She later served with AmeriCorps in Hawai’i developing early childhood literacy and programming at two Title 1 schools. During her time on Oahu, she learned the history of Polynesian, Melanesian, Micronesian and Asian cultures and cuisines. During Chakula Catering NYC’s first year of business, Khalilah learned to prepare for unpredictable catering environments and tweak her menu accordingly at art and music showcases, private dining gigs, and charity events. She enjoys thinking on her toes and experimenting with ingredients with a focus on cuisines of the African diaspora. Khalilah always offers healthy, delicious, vegan-friendly fare at every event.

Chakula Catering, Khalilah Coombs
Chakula Catering, Khalilah Coombs
Chakula Catering, Khalilah Coombs
Chakula Catering, Khalilah Coombs

Combining her background in the performing arts with her love of cooking and cross-cultural connection, Khalilah hopes to continue incorporating more charity in her business. With the money earned from providing meals at local events, she has donated to several not-for-profits including the CAMBA Magnolia Women’s Shelter and the Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy. With everything Khalilah does, she makes sure she gives back to her community. From locally sourcing her ingredients to supporting social causes, she always finds ways to give meaning to her work. In the future, Khalilah plans to open a space featuring the work of local visual artists and musicians with in-house catering.

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