For many Santa Barbarans, their first tastes of the teff-based flatbread injera and spicy sega wat stew came from the kitchen of Saba Tewolde, who’s been sharing her Ethiopian cuisine with us for years. This weekend, she’ll embark on the next stage of her career, hosting a pop-up dinner on June 20 at Embermill to benefit the strife-ravaged Tigray region, which is her homeland, and then starting to serve lunch regularly at the Caribbean restaurant on State Street.
“My dream since I was 7 years old was to open an Ethiopian restaurant,” explained Tewolde, who was invited to the Embermill kitchen by its owner, Harold Welch. The Saturday-night dinner is 5-10 p.m., and then lunches will be served noon-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday.
Tewolde learned to cook from her grandmother during her childhood in Ethiopia, where food was a critical concern. “Growing up in Ethiopia was difficult because of the war and hunger,” explained Tewolde, who’s been catering Ethiopian meals around Santa Barbara for years. “Many people escaped as refugees. I was one of those people who had to escape to survive.”
She fled to Saudi Arabia, which was interesting from a food perspective, but not for equality as a woman. “Women have no opportunities there,” she said. “I was searching for freedom, and I found my freedom in the United States.” It took about a decade for her to adapt to American culture, but credits “wonderful friends” for making it easier to function. She started her catering company while also working as a caregiver.
The benefit is personal for her. “The reason I am doing this is because, in my hometown, many people are being raped and killed and suffer because of war and famine,” she said of Tigray, where government and humanitarian reports reveal that an ethnic cleansing is underway. “This will give me an opportunity to help my people.”
For June 20 reservations, text (805) 452-3377. 1031 State St.; embermillsb.com.