“Manny” Baiden is always looking to the future.
“One of my biggest goals was to open a restaurant before age 30, or be an executive chef at a restaurant,” he says. With the opening of Jackson Ward jewel Penny’s Wine Shop this February, Baiden can cross both those goals off his list.
Since moving to Richmond in 2019, Baiden has successfully grown his own private catering company, Manny Eats. “I’m happy to say I’ve gotten Manny’s to a point where I don’t have to worry about booking so much,” says Baiden. “In the chef world, if you’re not a chef at a restaurant you’re just depending solely on events, and everyone isn’t throwing a party every week.”
When it comes to hiring his services, people are finding reasons to celebrate.
“I was looking at the stats of what I’d done, and I did 58 events last year,” says Baiden. “That’s crazy to think about.” Of the countless events he’s catered over the past few years, some have been particularly special, like the dinners he’s donated to raise money for the World Pediatric Project. “I’m from Ghana, I love the work they do, providing healthcare to children who lack access to it,” he says. “This year I was invited to the World Pediatric gala—I like giving back in a way that makes sense to me.”
Another aspect of giving back is imparting his culinary knowledge, introducing Richmond diners to West African dishes and flavors they may never encounter otherwise. At Penny’s, Baiden says he wants to keep American food the “focal point,” but will throw in “bits of West African influence here and there.”
“We have the coriander short ribs with sweet potato grits,” he notes. “People may not think to put those two flavors together, but I grew up eating grits and sweet potatoes are a staple in our diet. I want to be able to bring these things together on the plate that make sense and are delicious and approachable.”
Baiden is coming up on a busy wedding and event season, and the team at Penny’s recently introduced new spring items to their menu. But this chef has no intention of slowing down. “I want to make sure Penny’s has a foothold in the city and in the growing food scene, and I want to be even more active in the community,” he says. “Maybe I’ll even do a TV cooking competition.”