Through the portraits, we share the rich and diverse personal stories of women and non-binary folks, shedding light on their journeys and accomplishments. Using their contribution to the food industry as an entry point, we touch on their journeys, philosophies, and accomplishments—creating conversations with staying power.
Berlin has long served as a formative playground and testing ground for many artists, entrepreneurs, and creators. For Destiny Dexter, née Egberongbe, a New Yorker of Nigerian heritage who moved to the city three years ago, it has proven to be the ideal place to pursue and perfect her passion: baking.
Destiny is a polymath who worked in the fashion industry prior to her first food-related job. Her interest in baking started out as a hobby. “On lunch breaks, on holidays, on any occasion, I would bring in a cake, I would bring in a tart. I was more interested in food than in the company [where I worked]. It got to the point where I thought, maybe this isn’t where I belong.” This led to her first job in pastry, working at a Milan-headquartered café in Park Slope with an Italian chocolatier. “It was my first true immersive experience but I was self-taught. I took a couple of courses at the Institute of Culinary Education in Chelsea and I played with the idea of going to culinary school. I felt that I could learn faster and spend less money by bypassing that, and that’s what I did. I spent about a year with him; he taught me a lot.”
Destiny’s Kitchen came about during a break between jobs, when one of her closest friends pushed her to bake something she could eat, as she was “the notorious gluten-free vegan in 2013 in New York…it was still kind of taboo.” Destiny made a sweet potato peanut butter loaf for her friend, they went around Bushwick (where she was living at the time), and she got her first client. “I was like, ‘You want to pay me to make this for you?!’ I was so shocked but I think New York is a place where people are curious, like they are here in Berlin.” They partnered and built the business themselves, landing a big client soon after. After a couple of years, her friend and business partner left New York. “I also felt like I couldn’t teach myself anything else and I wanted to learn more. So we stopped.”
With Jabo Foods, Destiny has refined her specialty in pastry even further by offering frozen pre-portioned cookie dough made of the best ingredients, so that cafés in town can offer premium handmade freshly baked vegan cookies. “I do love baking but the one thing that always bothers me is just sitting in a hot kitchen, forever. I thought, how can I get over that part? I always did wholesale in New York and I thought, maybe I can do something frozen. The whole idea of cookies came to me because it’s my favorite thing to eat in the world. How can I play on that? Well, I can sell the dough because it’s something easy to bake and I think it’s a very American thing to do.”
Destiny muses on her twists and turns of her journey to arrive at Jabo Foods, partially attributing it to her background and who she is. “I was not raised to believe that food was something that you could do to sustain yourself, to live off of. It was something you do out of desperation, coming from a Nigerian family. Or just to feed your family, but it wasn’t a career.”
“But the longer I did it, the more I realized that there was nothing else that I loved as much.”
Now in Berlin, Destiny is integrating and honoring all the cultures she moves within. “I really try to influence my food. I’m testing a cookie that uses cassava, which is really common in Nigerian food, to pay homage to my roots. ” She chose to name her business after her mother, Iyabo. “I still cook Nigerian food when I’m feeling homesick but […] my American side definitely influenced my food culture. Because as much as I am Nigerian I am also American—I was raised there predominantly, for most of my life. Coming to Germany and having both, it’s hard because people tend to deny my American side—they look at me and they’re like, ‘Oh, she’s another African.’ Which I’m happy to be, but I’m also American. Not having the term ‘expatriate’ be used for me because I am Black is sometimes unfair.”
Perhaps because she is self-taught and specializes in the relatively new field of vegan baking, she seeks to constantly improve her recipes and products. Or maybe she’s just driven and passionate. “I’m always changing my recipes—even the ones that I have now, [something] can always be optimized. If it’s for the market, if it’s for a client, if it’s something that’s pre-packaged—those are three different recipes. My goal is to keep developing new flavors, and trying out different grains. I got notebooks for days! One cookie can take me three months, one cookie can take me three days. It’s a lot of testing. It’s nonstop. It’s actually the favorite part about my job, because it’s always new. You can always make your product better.”
Her first client in Berlin came out of bringing her products to an event of the Feminist Food Club (FFC). The FFC was founded by Mary Scherpe and is a social group/network in Berlin focused on supporting trans and cis women and non-binary folks in gastronomy and tackling intersecting issues of injustice with a feminist approach. “I’ve had women, especially from the FFC, help me get to where I am now. It’s just about meeting the right people, and being shamelessly curious. People will answer your questions and help you here. It’s less competitive and more about camaraderie, especially in the female community in the food industry.”
Because of the support she’s had along the way, Destiny is very much interested in helping others too. She recognizes how powerful creating a community can be and envisions creating a co-production space one day “to help people find their way. My goal within the next five years is to open a co-production space for people who run plant-based businesses. Young people who are starting their businesses don’t have a certified location to make their products, because it’s quite expensive and involved. We would help each other and learn from each other; we could teach classes, and maybe write a book together. I really want to keep passing on [knowledge], and paying forward.”
Jabo Foods is the result of Destiny’s journey to embrace her truth: her joy, passion, insatiable curiosity, and drive for excellence. Along the way, she’s been encouraged and supported first by a sisterhood borne out of friendship, which has since grown to include a larger network of folks concerned with justice and the culinary arts. In Berlin, she’s found camaraderie versus competition, and is working to pay it forward, “because it’s just so important to help others with any platform that you have.”