My visit to Global Village Cuisine was filled with warmth, delicious aromas, and enriching conversation. Co-founders Damaris and Mel Hall are genuine and authentic people that were as curious about me as I was about them. They both have smiles that bring delight to those around them and their food is impeccably crafted and infused with that joy. In fact, Global Village Cuisine creates some of the best food you will ever taste with authentic African inspired, ready-to-eat meals and samosas. Their meals are free of all eight allergens, mostly vegan with the exception of a few dishes that contain chicken and beef, and accompanied by delicious spice and herb flavors instead of over-salting. They have hand-crafted frozen food fit for anyone’s needs and have time-tested their recipes over many years of serving food at festivals, catering, and owning a restaurant. Their primary focus is to shift the perception that frozen food is only salty TV dinners, when in fact it can be highly nutritious food that makes dinner preparation simple. By aiming to craft food fit for every type of diet they have dreams to go national, and with that financial success they plan to make social impacts that will stretch beyond the dinner table.
The origins of Global Village Cuisine’s food, mission and social impact come from the influence of Kenya. Co-founder Damaris was born and raised in Kenya and Mel spent nine months studying in Nairobi. Damaris’s childhood and early adulthood in Kenya was filled with memories of eating and cooking food that was mostly focused around fresh vegetables and herbs. Slow cooking with an emphasis on fresh spices and herbs over salt was central. Her family was always preparing food and ensured that anyone in their neighborhood would be fed if they stopped in for a visit. Damaris and Mel met in Nairobi when Mel was involved with an Environmental Studies program; his host family’s daughter was friends with Damaris. Mel spent time traveling Africa and learning about technology businesses and also the importance of social causes that could be funded by successful financial investments. Damaris was studying Institutional Management which she uses daily while running their business. During Mel’s nine months in Kenya the two became quite close and fell in love. Prior to leaving Kenya Mel proposed to Damaris and she said yes. While it was a tough decision for her to leave for the States, she was excited for the vision to build a family and a life in the U.S. Upon their arrival back in the States, Mel began studying at Dartmouth and they settled in Vermont. Initially they planned on leaving Vermont for a city once Mel finished his degree, but upon unexpectedly conceiving their first child, they decided that they’d make Vermont home. They are pleased with their life and proud of the global perspective that they cultivated in their home.
When their kids were small, Damaris and Mel spent time serving food at Bread and Puppet, VT Reggae Fest and on Phish tour. They loved these experiences due to the flexibility of life, financial success, ability to test recipes, and the amazing people they met along the way. As they grew tired of the festival life, they opened a restaurant and refined recipes and ideas into ones that were perfected and customer approved. These delicious recipes that have origins from Kenya, Ethiopia and other African nations are absolutely unique to the region. Nowadays Mel looks back with gratitude towards those people that worked around them during that time, providing positive affirmations and giving them feedback to keep up their business. While they loved operating a restaurant, they decided it was a bit too much for them and moved into catering until 2011 when their facility was flooded during Hurricane Irene. At that time they worked many different jobs while continuing to work towards the next iteration of their business life. In 2016 the current manifestation of Global Village Cuisine came into existence through the launching of their African frozen meals. They started cultivating relationships with local co-ops and independent stores in their region. As they moved distribution to Associated Buyers they found the relationship to be invaluable and helped support their continued growth. Business is now booming with a new focus on samosas and growth in new markets.
Slow-cooking the meat, vegetables, herbs, and spices is the secret of their meals. These combinations of healing and nourishing herbs/spices coupled with fresh veggies and meat present a delicious, complex, and flavorful offering. They spoke the magic of warming spices such as turmeric, cardamom, coriander, fennel, fenugreek, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. They stated many of their recipes are a perfect pairing of old-culture African cuisine and spices proven by science to be healing. In particular they chuckled about how they have used lots and lots of turmeric in their cooking before it became famous in the United States and proven to be a great daily supplement to consume. With their focus on consistency across all meals, being gluten free, organic and non-GMO, the quality is unparalleled. All meals are free of eggs, soy, dairy, seafood, shellfish, nuts, wheat and soy. This was inspired by their son who was allergic to many of these types of foods as a young boy. While he has grown out of some of them now, they have always wanted to appeal to a wide audience of people and to build deep trust with those who have food allergies. To top it all off they have pristine record-keeping, are a U.S.D.A. inspected facility and have monthly samples of their meals tested for food safety.
While Damaris was growing up in Kenya part of her daily work was to collect water and carry it back to their home for use in cooking, cleaning and washing. Many people she knew did not have access to clean and safe water. This poses a deep problem for mainly women and children who are often the ones responsible for this task. Damaris and Mel have always wanted to support solutions to this issue. In their research they found The Water Project, a non-profit that provides support around modern solutions to water issues. The Water Project digs wells for clean and safe water which supports many children in having a more hopeful future and improves their ability to get an education, be healthier, have access to food and enhanced financial opportunities. Global Village Cuisine wants to deeply impact this issue and by supporting The Water Project they can help fund in-country teams in Kenya, Uganda, and Sierra Leone to build and restore water points.
What do the long-term goals look like for Global Village Cuisine? Growth both locally and nationally. Locally they envision being more incorporated into the Brattleboro Food Co-op hot buffet with their Chickpea Tajine and many other hot buffets in the region. They are also focusing on growth within their samosa business with a new distributor on board. They are experimenting with new recipes including a black-eyed bean curry. With local growth they will have the ability to hire more staff. Damaris and Mel can then work themselves out of operational jobs and handle more strategic planning, logistics, marketing, recipe creation and relationship building. By hiring more people they can fulfill their ultimate goal of going into national distribution with their frozen meals. They dream fondly of bringing African slow-cooked food to kitchens across the United States. Ultimately growth will enable their partnership with The Water Project to grow and prosper into one that allows them to support access to clean water for people in Kenya and across Africa.
Taste Global Village Cuisineʼs delicious offerings on March 12, 11am-1pm and March 26, 4-6pm.
By Jon Megas-Russell