Graphic Business News

Barbara Baeta • 50 years of feeding the nation and its visitors

By: Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia

Dubbed “the Queen of Ghanaian Cuisine”, with half a century of exceptional catering under her belt, Madam Barbara Amesika Baeta has established herself as the pre-eminent choice when it comes to regaling dignitaries and royalty.

Baeta hasn’t looked back since her first contract – for US$100 – to feed one hundred service men aboard a US Navy Vessel, on American Independence day in 1968.

Since then she’s fed everyone. From His Royal Highness Prince Charles to Ex-President Barack Obama.

The list gets more impressive with every mention: The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Waddaulah, Ethiopia’s late Emperor Haile Selassie, Former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, The late Imperial Majesty of Japan, Prince Takamo and Princess Takamo, former UN Secretary-Generals, U Thant and Javier Perez de Cuellar, Malaysian Prime Minister, His Excellency Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, and the former US Vice-Presidents Spiro Agnes and Hubert Humphrey.

Locally, she’s fed all Ghanaian Heads of State. And for important events, the upper crust of Ghanaian society, would trust none other than Baeta’s Flair Catering Services. Most weekends, Flair’s premises, at Tito Avenue since February, 1973, is a beehive of frenetic activity, supervised by Baeta herself, to ensure that the many weddings, parties, receptions and other events entrusted to her are handled with “flair”.

Showcasing Ghanaian cuisine
Outside Flair, Baeta is a passionate advocate for showcasing traditional Ghanaian cuisine and where necessary, notorious for adding a contemporary twist, to make it more accessible to people who mightn’t ordinarily eat such fare.

She’s written or co-authored numerous books including the bestselling “The Ghana Cook Book”, a collaboration with Dr. Fran Osseo-Asare which in 2016 won the prestigious Gourmand Cookbook Award.  Prior to that, she wrote “The West African Cookery Cards and contributed to The Lifetime Magazine Cook Book and The Kitchen Safari.

In addition, Baeta has, through Flair’s training school, trained hundreds of people for the hospitality industry. Many of her students enjoy success both locally and internationally, thanks to a rigorous practical and theoretical curriculum. Flair alumni include former First Lady of Ghana, Lordina Mahama and Christian Nii Nortey Lokko, a chef at the five star Rixos Premium Dubai Hotel’s Azure Beach Restaurant and Rivera Sea Food Grill.

Her story
But Baeta may not have lived to tell her story.

In 1965, shortly after Ghana Television (GTV) commenced operations, Baeta was asked to host, each Wednesday, what soon become the most popular cooking show at the time.

As was the case at the time, television shows were pre-recorded, often late into the night, as the fledgling television station and its technicians grappled with inadequate equipment that broke down quite often.

On a grey and uneventful morning on the 24th of February, 1966, as a tired Baeta was retiring home after a long night of filming, she was quickly jolted awake by a disturbing scene of military forces led by Lt. (later General) Kotoka and Major (later General) Afrifa advancing towards Broadcasting House, to take over the State broadcaster as part of the coup d’etat that removed Kwame Nkrumah from power while on a peace mission to Vietnam.

Recounting the event, which still gives her goosebumps, Baeta said “As my car got to the gate (of Broadcasting House) soldiers were ready to move in and take over. But the leader of the recce squadron, a family friend, saw me driving this little van and said “if I stop this girl, I’ll have to shoot her car and she might have an accident. So I’m going to close my eyes for one minute for her to get out of the way, then I can give the order”. So he waited for me to cross the Ring Road, saw the tail end of my car before giving the order to take over Broadcasting House. If he hadn’t given the order one minute after he was supposed, I’m not sure I’ll be here to tell this story”.

At the time, Baeta was running the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) where she started a restaurant and an outside catering business “catering practically for all the embassies in Accra, all the Queen’s birthday parties and all National day celebrations”
It was at YMCA, that Baeta began to build her reputation as a culinary goddess, an expansive network and gain relevant experience that would serve her well at Flair.

At the 1967 Ghana Expo in Montreal, Canada, she singlehandedly cooked, and organised a fashion show, for over 500 people. The successful event, covered widely in Ghanaian and Canadian press, led to a Canadian government scholarship for further practical training in Canada.

Before she joined YWCA, Baeta had worked as Assistant Catering Officer at Korle-bu Teaching Hospital and Kumasi Central Hospital.

Upon her return from Ghana, in 1960, after studying at Liverpool’s Huyton College for Girls and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science, she’d taught domestic science at Aburi Girls. But quickly dawned on her that her passion, skills, and talents were better suited to life outside the classroom; a decision, thousands whose bellies she’s filled over the last fifty years can only be thankful.