Sometimes, a seat at the table not only can provide an individual or group with a voice, but also bring people of different backgrounds and ideologies closer together.

With those concepts in mind, Upper Arlington Cultural Arts Manager Lynette Santoro-Au and her staff hosted a dinner last year to bring people of Iranian heritage together with members of the Upper Arlington community.

The second installment of the Arts in Community Education program took place June 20, when about 60 Upper Arlington residents and members of central Ohio's Ghanaian community sat down for an authentic Ghanaian meal at the Amelita Mirolo Barn.

"The goal is to have a conversation with another culture and to learn about them through their food -- literally breaking bread with others to have a shared experience," Santoro-Au said. "We hope to start a dialogue with others in our community, to diversify our residents' experience, to burst the 'bubble of UA.' "

Assigned seating ensured that people of differing backgrounds were placed at tables so guests would interact with people they didn't know.

The event was catered by Asempe Kitchen, a "pop-up" restaurant and catering business run by chef Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe.

Yomekpe provides "a culinary adventure for the curious" steeped in Ghana's traditional foods and featuring her own twists adapted for the western palate.

Primarily, Asempe Kitchen offerings are available through catered pop-up events like the one at the Barn last month, and each Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Hills Market, 95 N. Grant Ave. in downtown Columbus.

Yomekpe immigrated to Ohio from Ghana in 1996, and then moved to California, where she operated Asempe Kitchen in Berkeley and Oakland for two years.

She returned to Upper Arlington, bringing her restaurant to the area, in September 2016.

Yomekpe prefers the financial benefits that pop-ups provide start-up enterprises, but that's not her sole motivation for embracing the concept.

"It is certainly less overhead, but mainly I believe in bringing the food to the people instead of waiting for them to find me," she said.

Through the local event, Yomekpe hoped to bring her food to more people and break down preconceived notions people from Upper Arlington might have about people from Ghana, and vice versa.

"We all have our little things that we think we know about each other," Yomekpe said. "This is the beginning of the conversation."

Encouraged by Santoro-Au and Yomekpe to have "an open mind and welcoming heart," diners sampled from a four-course meal that included a Ghanaian salad of lettuce, cabbage, vegetables, potatoes, sardines and baked beans.

The main course was waakye (pronounced "waa-chay") that included jasmine rice, black-eyed peas and seasonings in a goat and oxtail stew with hard-boiled eggs, pasta, hot pepper and avocado.

During and after dinner, guests talked about their cultures.

Taura Hyde, an African American Columbus native who married a Ghanaian and has traveled to the country with her family numerous times, said she prefers to visit Ghana in August, when "there's a nice breeze," as opposed to the sometimes oppressive heat of January.

She also said she was surprised to find how safe the country is, noting that it's common practice to allow elementary school-aged children to walk to and from school.

Nemo Assan is a Ghanaian native who moved to the United States three years ago to enroll at Ohio University. He now lives in Columbus and is continuing his studies at Ohio State University.

He laughed at Hyde's reluctance to visit his homeland during its hottest month.

He and Hyde also shared stories of visiting the harrowing and now defunct "castles," ancient fortresses on the country's southern coast, where native slaves were held by Europeans before being loaded onto ships and sold in the Americas.

In addition to the country's history, Assan noted spiritual beliefs held by many in Ghana that yield friendly, almost pet-like bonds, between people and both alligators and monkeys.

"Alligators are friendly," he said. "They'll sit outside your door and protect you and your family."

Yomekpe said the event served its purpose.

"I believe that food is the first step in bridging a cultural gap," she said. "America's food is all immigrant food, from Italian to Mediterranean to Mexican - they were all adopted from immigrant cultures.

"I just want African food to be as popular. I think once we taste each other's food, break bread, we can cross that boundary."

nellis@thisweeknews.om

@ThisWeekNate