Kwanzaa Culinarians

Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora

Kuumba Motivates Creator of “Tofu Delights”

Tufo Cheesecakes and Kabobs with Chef Jawanza Zulu

Tofu Cheesecakes, Tofu Kabobs and Chef Jawanza Zulu

When Washington, D.C. Chef Jawanza Zulu sees a recipe or watches a food show featuring chicken, beef, pork, duck or desserts, he imagines how the food, its flavors and textures, can be recast as tofu. Chef Zulu, owner of “Tofu Delights” catering, grew up watching tofu dishes being prepared by the women he knew: his mother, his grandmother, and the community women—the “mamas”—who were part of Shule ya Ujamaa (“School of Cooperative Economics” in the Kiswahili language).

His parents were the school’s directors and the community included families who sent their children to Shule ya Ujamaa and who attended the food-filled family nights, dinners, and Kwanzaa events held there. His family hosted Dr. Maulana Karenga, creator of Kwanzaa, when he spoke at the school during the early years of Kwanzaa celebrations.

Chef Zulu’s passion for healthy cooking began in 1990 when he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He ran a successful special-occasion catering business for couples and families, but that concept didn’t catch on when he returned home to Washington, D.C. After nearly a decade as a school security chief (while catering his tofu dishes on the side), Chef Zulu began applying the principle of Kuumba (creativity) to guide his career trajectory. He is working on obtaining a food truck for “Tofu Delights” and taking his spicy-sweet, tender-crispy creations to the streets. He wants to thrill palates and make true believers out of tofu newcomers. “People who say they don’t like tofu don’t know how to prepare it properly,” Chef Zulu said.

Clockwise: Jawanza Jr., Jawanza, Fatima and Jahid Zulu

Clockwise: Jawanza Jr., Jawanza, Fatima and Jahid Zulu

Transforming a block of soy curd into crispy morsels that look and taste like fish or into tender strips that taste like beef takes skill, a deep understanding of the ingredient, and inexhaustible creativity. “I’ve made and served tofu every way: fried, baked, boiled, grilled, and by infusing it in desserts. Anything you can do with meat you can make with tofu,” he added. His signature dish, tofu egg rolls with honey mustard sauce, is a customer favorite along with jerk tofu, barbecue tofu kabobs, tofu sushi, and cheesecake made with creamed tofu and fruit, and much more.

Currently, Chef Zulu provides healthy lunches for three schools, sells his dishes at local farmers markets and festivals throughout Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, and takes call-in orders. He is steadfast about his food-truck aspirations. From research and experience, he knows which communities in the Washington D.C. area are trending toward healthier diets; he has written a detailed business plan and is courting investors.

When asked if he considers himself an artisan food producer, Chef Zulu pondered a bit and then agreed wholeheartedly. “My whole thought process is what I can do that’s new.” He wants to change minds about tofu—a high-protein, low-fat, low-cholesterol food–without skimping on taste. His wife, Fatima, and his sons and daughters support Chef Zulu and often are catering alongside him to further the family dream and exemplifying, always, Kuumba.

For more information about Chef Jawanza Zulu visit, follow him on, or call (202) 292-0348

Alaiyo Kiasi-Barnes is a Maryland food blogger whose blog, Pescetarian Journal, focuses on sustainable seafood and vegetarian fare. Follow her on Twitter.

About Bren Herrera

Bren has been cooking Latin and fusion cuisine for 18 years, and professionally for 8, having developed a passion for entertaining at an early age. Cooking for friends and family has always fascinated her and brings her much joy. In 2008 she launched her critically acclaimed food blog, Flanboyant Eats™. The blog’s popularity has landed her TV gigs appearing with Emeril Lagasse, a private stodge and demo with Chef of the Century, Joel Robuchon and continues to do TV having recently appeared on CNN Español, reaching over 30 million viewers. Bren is a full-time private chef, food and travel writer, having written food columns for LATINA Magazine, Dean & DeLuca, Cuisine Noir and has been published in various print publications covering culinary trends, restaurant reviews, global cuisine and excursions. She’s been featured in Black Enterprise, The Washington Post, Daily Candy, The AJC and other notable publications.

One comment on “Kuumba Motivates Creator of “Tofu Delights”

  1. Stevie
    January 14, 2012

    This is an amazing story. I really enjoy tofu though it is something that I’ve grown into since it is not part of my Polish-American/Italian-American family traditions. I’d really like to try some of Chef Zulu’s tofu delights. I feel certain that this is an idea that would gain a lot of traction in the San Francisco Bay Area. Perhaps if the food truck takes off in Washington, he can develop a West Coast branch?


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This entry was posted on December 31, 2011 by in 2011, business, Interview, Kuumba and tagged , , , , , .

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Learn more about Kwanzaa

The word "Kwanzaa" comes from the phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first-fruits." Kwanzaa's extra "a" evolved as a result of a particular history of the Organization Us. It was clone as an expression of African values in order to inspire the creativity of our children. In the early days of Us, there were seven children who each wanted to represent a letter of Kwanzaa. Since kwanza (first) has only six letters, we added an extra "a" to make it seven, thus creating "Kwanzaa." To learn more about Kwanzaa, visit the Official Kwanzaa Website.

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