Ethiopian Chef Genet Agonafer – A Vegan, Yet Cooks the Best Doro Wot
Open the front door to chef-owner Genet Agonafer’s restaurant, a dining room that seems both a local fixture and oddly incommensurate with the neighborhood.
Go down the few blocks of Fairfax Avenue that constitute the Little Ethiopia neighborhood of Los Angeles, past the antique shops and markets and repeating restaurants of the cozy, vibrant, cluttered-sidewalk community, and you’ll find Meals by Genet, which for the last 17 years has operated as a kind of culinary oasis.
Open the front door to chef-owner Genet Agonafer’s restaurant, a dining room that seems both a local fixture and oddly incommensurate with the neighborhood. White tablecloths. Starched napkins fanned in wine glasses. Candlelight throwing shadows on museum-white walls hung with framed art. Juxtaposed with the serene bistro aesthetic is Genet’s traditional Ethiopian cooking: platters covered with injera, the dark-lavender-colored teff flatbreads that function as plate, utensil and accompaniment, and loaded with colorful zones of vegetables and stews and condiments, all eaten by hand.
And at the center of almost all of the platters on the tables — as if by a kind of gravitational pull — is Genet’s doro wot, the intense, long-cooked, chile-spiked chicken stew that is so intrinsic to Ethiopian cuisine that, says Genet, in the arranged marriages that are still commonplace in her native country, “the guy, before he even looks at you, he tastes the doro wot: It’s that important.”
Yet this dish, so important to Genet Agonafer herself that she named the version on her menu after her only grandchild, Ria, is one that the chef hasn’t eaten in years. Nor has she eaten the excellent kitfo, butter-laden steak tartar; the beef or chicken tibs; or even the whole trout she’s had on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2000: “I was vegetarian for a long time and became a vegan three years ago,” says Genet Agonafer, who doesn’t drink what’s on her wine list either: She got sober in 1985.