Manal Kahi: How to Expand Your Palate

August 8 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: Food Without Borders

Several kooky restaurants are leaving dinner guests in the dark—literally. From Bangkok to Las Vegas, these dining experiences begin with staff guiding you to your table in complete darkness and usually offering a prix-fixe meal. While the idea of buttering my roll in a pitch-black room surrounded by strangers gives me the heebie-jeebies, it also makes me wonder: Am I close-minded when it comes to the way I eat? If I’m rigid about one of my favorite activities (stuffing my face), what else am I stubborn about? Today, ask yourself what new things you are and aren’t willing to try.


Much of the time, we simply don’t like something until we’ve tried it. (Case in point: This is every American kid who sees something green on his or her plate for the first time). But adults are a bit more open-minded. The National Restaurant Association estimates that 52 percent of American adults want to expand their palates to include more ethnic cuisine.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Manal Kahi, Co-founder and CEO of Eat Offbeat

Today’s Woman to Watch, Manal Kahi, knows a little something about ethnic cuisine. She co-founded a catering company called Eat Offbeat, which features homemade recipes made by chefs from all around the world.

When she moved to New York City in 2013, Manal began teaching at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. She’s well-versed in all sorts of cultures, proven by her ability to speak seven languages (Wow!) and her professional experience in places like Beirut and Panama. From spearheading the analysis of climate policies in North Africa to managing environmental assessments in the United Arab Emirates, Manal’s global perspective and education guided her to social entrepreneurship—and it all started with hummus (seriously).

One day, Manal whipped up her family’s Lebanese recipe for a chickpea spread. The recipe came from her grandmother, who certainly had a lot of culinary secrets from her past. Manal and her brother thought about what other authentic ethnic cuisines people were missing out on, so they devised a business plan to employ chefs like their grandmother, whose cooking was rich in culture and taste.

Eat Offbeat delivers ethnic meals created by nine refugees, most of whom are women, to hungry New Yorkers. These experienced chefs hail from Guinea, Eritrea, Nepal and more. Eat Offbeat is possible thanks to Manal’s early partnership with the widely known resettlement agency International Rescue Committee, which resettles thousands of refugees yearly throughout America.

Running a business like Eat Offbeat requires unique onboarding and support, which Manal is more than happy to provide. She once commuted on the subway a few times with a new chef who was new to NYC and needed guidance. Eat Offbeat offers more than a tasty meal: it respects skilled chefs and shares stories from their homelands through their often underrepresented culinary cuisines.

There’s a fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, but one of the best ways to appreciate a culture is through food. Making and sharing food is one of the best ways to bring people of diverse backgrounds together. For more about our tips for appreciating culture, click here or go to to read more!


I dare say the way to a man’s or a woman’s heart is through his or her stomach. A Spanish proverb says it a little better:

“The belly rules the mind.”

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