Growing up in Summit Lake, Dannika Stevenson didn’t have access to fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables. Her food source was the corner store or gas station, and as a result, she often struggled with eating healthy.
Today, Dannika is a culinary instructor teaching kids and families how to find and prepare healthy food through her business, Sip.Savor.Soul.
“I’m trying to create recipes that are easy to prepare,” Dannika says. “We have young kids who are staying by themselves. They’re home alone because their parent or parents are working.”
Dannika is targeting neighborhoods in Akron that are “food deserts,” where it’s difficult to buy affordable fresh food. Through partnerships with the Summit Food Coalition and Let’s Grow Akron, Dannika is working on making sure families know about, and have access to, local farmers markets.
Many of her recipes, like salads, yogurt parfaits and trail mix, are intentionally designed for kids who can’t use a stove or a microwave. They are also targeted at kids who don’t have many experiences with fruits and vegetables.
“I have kids that come and they look at these fruits and vegetables. They smell, they taste, they hold it. And it’s funny, with the kids, you get their reactions. They’re like, ‘this doesn’t look pretty’ or ‘it feels rough.’ But that’s why I want them to explore that,” she says. “I want them to be curious about it. And I tell them, I just want you to close your eyes and take a bite and if you don’t like it, no big deal.”
Dannika has been working in the culinary industry for years. She moved back to Akron in 2015 after working in New Orleans, Atlanta and Nashville.
In Akron, she worked as a culinary instructor at Hattie Larlham’s Food Hub, which provided fresh produce to Akron residents before closing in 2017. At Hattie Larlham, Dannika enjoyed making Creole food, Mexican food and even sushi with attendees.
“What I wanted to do is bring those cultural cuisines to them, because there’s people that have never left Akron. Never left their neighborhood. So, I wanted to bring a different type of flavor, a different type of experience to the class.”
Dannika looks at the food she makes as an art form. She says there are many opportunities for families and people to be in community with each other through food.
“I like the diversity when people come to the table and we sit and we eat and we share stories, and we talk about what we learned, what we liked and didn’t like. I love that. It’s so fun,” Dannika says.
Black-Eyed Pea Salsa (serves 12)
11 oz. bag frozen black-eyed peas, thawed and rinsed
11 oz. bag frozen corn, thawed and rinsed
1 small red onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
1 package cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 lime squeezed and juiced
1 bunch cilantro, minced
½ cup olive oil
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ tsp salt, cumin and chili powder
In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, cumin, chili powder and salt. Add black-eyed peas, corn, peppers, red onion and tomatoes. Add lime juice. Stir to combine.
Stir in cilantro. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or overnight to blend flavors. Serve chilled or at room temperature.