At the corner of North Lamar and Molly Barr, there’s an unassuming black trailer parked in between two gas stations’ parking lots. Arrive at the right time of day, however, and you’ll see a sizeable crowd huddled around one of Oxford’s more unique new lunch spots.
This new food truck, named Afrissippi, is the latest venture for chef Chad Henson, a longtime Oxford resident and former co-owner of Two Stick.
“I’ve had this trailer for the past couple years in Destin,” he says. “We’ve done sushi in it, barbecue, burgers, different concepts.”
“I live in Santa Barbara now. I guess I’m more interested in doing a different concept, or a different menu. The creative side of it rather than the day-to-day working of it.”
Although the truck has only been serving food for a few weeks now, the Afrissippi concept is something that Henson has been involved with for some years in varying capacities. The project began when Guelel Kumba, a native of Senegal, relocated to Oxford and began playing African/blues fusion with a band of the same name.
“[Guelel] used to play at my restaurant, Two Stick. Then we did a summer camp for kids called Camp Afrissippi, for the Girls and Boys Club. It was all about teaching North Mississippi kids the influence of music, dance, all that stuff.”
Now, Kumba seeks to show the influence of Senegalese cooking on the soul food that’s so essential to life in the south. But he’s only half of the restaurant. Robin Hill, who used to own a food trailer nearby, serves her famous hot wings, fried fish, and other such staples of the Mississippi diet out of the same space.
Although it may sound adventurous in theory, many of the African dishes at Afrissippi will look familiar to locals, a testament to the overlap and influence between the two cultures.
“Jambalaya’s actually a dish made in Senegal,” Henson says. “I don’t know if the word ‘jambalaya’ is Senegalese, but I do know they’ve been making it as long as they have in New Orleans. Same with gumbo.”
“In Senegalese, ‘gumbo’ means ‘okra.’ Black eyed peas, collard greens, sweet potatoes, [they’re] all West African food. The cooking was mostly done by slaves at the time. So the way they fried fish [and] cooked greens was a West African thing, not only a Southern thing.”
At this point, the trailer does not feature a fusion cuisine so much as it offers two different menus altogether. “It’s kind of a way to get people who wouldn’t normally try African food to try it,” Henson explains.
Though the menu changes from day to day, Afrissippi’s early success coupled with the fluid nature of the food truck means that bigger changes could be on the horizon.
“I like the idea of giving other people a chance to start their own thing,” Henson says. “Ideally, if Guelel’s food takes off, he may do this until he can get a brick-and-mortar spot, or he may do his own catering.”
And why stop at just two countries? “I’m thinking about adding a guy making tacos. I’ve talked to a guy from Guatemala who’s interested in doing some more traditional Guatemalan fare.”
“It’s more of a chameleon kind of truck.”
This mix of the familiar and the adventurous is proving a successful venture so far. “I drove all the way from Orlando, Florida to eat this food,” says one man in the crowd, who identifies himself as a high school classmate of Robin’s.
This article was printed in The Local Voice #230 (published May 28, 2015).
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Afrissippi was the feature of the cover for this issue!: