By Pat EbySPECIAL TO THE POST-DISPATCH 02/03/2010
Hot and spicy is nothing new for Benjamin Akande, who cut his teeth on pepper soup.
"They spoon-fed me this soup since as long as I can remember," said Akande, who is from Lagos, Nigeria. "We lived very close to the Atlantic growing up. We'd drive a few miles to pick up fresh seafood every day."
When the Akande family moved to Louisville, pepper soup with fish stayed on the menu, even in landlocked Kentucky.
While his parents pursued graduate degrees, Benjamin studied his favorite subject — history — in elementary school. An economics class in the seventh grade ignited his passion for what he calls the language of business. "I loved economics — I was enamored with the process — how we can elevate and sustain cultures and nations, creating jobs."
His appetite for history and economics dovetailed throughout undergraduate school at Wayland Baptist University in Texas, where he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration. He moved on to the University of Oklahoma, where he earned two master's degrees and a Ph.D. in economics and met his wife, Bola, who was in pharmacy school.
Throughout his college career, he cooked, recalling how his mother had made certain dishes, experimenting and learning. "I'd always watched my mom cook — that was my apprenticeship — and when I went home, I'd watch her more closely, remembering the combinations. But my wife, the ultimate chef — she was my graduate and post-graduate education in cooking," he said.
Their children experiment in the kitchen, too. "My kids are their own individuals — each with different interests. They love music, math, science, theater. They cook, bake cakes. They are finding their own style," he said.
Akande's style includes using combinations of fish such as sea bass, whiting and prawns in his pepper soup.
"The pepper soup — when you first eat it, you eat just the fish, as your mouth gets used to the heat. Then you spoon a little broth with the fish. Soon, you take just the broth — and you enjoy the heat, the taste."