This restaurant sits on a surprisingly quiet enclave of Main Street in the heart of historic College Park , an Atlanta Suburb. As you walk through the doors, you are greeted with warm aromas of eastern Nigerian food that instantly causes your mouth to water. As the personable staff takes your order, the sound of other patrons talking to each other while they wait for their food juxtaposes with the sounds of the trains just across the street. In this setting, one cannot help but be consumed by the inclusive feeling of camaraderie and warmth this joint exudes.
Charles Okeke, the chef manager of the Palms restaurant is one of the most personable people you can meet. A man with an eye for detail and excellence in east Nigerian cuisine, Charles immigrated to the U.S along with his family in 1999 after years of running his own company in Nigeria . Afrofoodbytes sits with this culinary master for an interview.
Charles: I was lucky to be raised by a mother that showed me how to run and maintain a household. She was a police officer and due to her career got transferred a lot. My father was a pastor in the church and could not move as readily, so I lived with my mother while my elder brother stayed at home with my dad. This opened up opportunities to for me to learn to fend for the both of us in the household as she went out to work.
Yeti: What made you decide to cook professionally?
Charles: I saw a great need for an African restaurant because in the past, every time I wanted to go out to eat, there was no place that offered the type of delicious home cooking I had a craving for. I also found that a large group of people and friends were looking for the need to be filled. After much thought, I decided to open this restaurant which has now fulfilled not only my dream of owning my own business, but also that of a lot of people who have looked for a place like this for such a long time.
Yeti: What is your best advice for a home cook?
Charles: Cooking our type of food is not too difficult, especially for anyone who was raised in Nigeria. My advice will be for people to learn how to properly store and preserve cooked food. Because of the time required to prepare this type of cuisine, making it from scratch each day is not very practical. It is imperative to learn proper storage techniques (a valuable lesson I picked up from my contact with other local chefs) is the key to a fresh and delicious meal that satisfy the palate every time.
Yeti: What is your favorite culinary tool?
Charles: That is a difficult question; because I love all my tools but if forced I will have to say the wooden paddle that is used typically to make pounded staples. That is one tool you don’t want to be caught in a kitchen without.
Yeti: What is your Signature dish?
Charles: I would have to say the Edikang Ikong vegetable soup. A lot of people go for this dish. It is a dish that crosses over well to both Africans and non-Africans.
Charles: Currently, I do not see that much of a deficiency anymore as it used to be.
Now, most of the ingredients you need are accessible thanks to entrepreneurs in the food importation business. As a result of this, we as a group in Diaspora are doing quite well culinary wise. The ingredients we are not able to get readily like perishables and vegetables, has us adapting our recipes to locally available produce.
The Palms restaurant is located at 3807 Main Street , College park, Georgia. (404)305-9090. Monday thru Friday 11am to 9pm Saturday 2pm to 9pm.