Okan Food

February Artists & Chefs

Honoring Black Heritage & Valentine’s Day Traditions

Our February practitioners present a focus on movement, art, culinary and culture. See and feel the magic of connection over the month and take a moment to pause, exhale and nourish the mind, body and soul, all while immersing yourself in the rich tapestry of Lowcountry culture.

Chef Bernard Bennett


Chef & Restaurant Owner

Renowned for his exceptional cuisine at Bluffton’s kàn restaurant, Chef Bernard Bennett is recognized as a 2023 Semifinalist for Emerging Chef by the James Beard Foundation. Chef Bernard helped formulate the concept for Okàn from his passion for learning how history and culture have shaped how we eat and where our food really comes from. The new restaurant will express the heart and soul of underrepresented cuisine by following the culinary journey of West African-rooted cooking. Okàn’s menu showcases how ingredients originated, changed through the course of forced migration, and now celebrate an elevated pairing of cultures.

As a non-profit organization, the James Beard Foundation’s mission is to celebrate, support, and elevate the people who are paving a better future for America’s food culture and a community where all can thrive. Considered to be among the nation’s most prestigious honors, the James Beard Awards recognize exceptional culinary and food industry talent as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, and sustainability. Executive Chef Bernard Bennett has been named one of twenty semifinalists in the Emerging Chef category by the James Beard Foundation.

Uncle Nearest



Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey honors the world’s first-known African American master distiller, Nearest Green. The brand is the fastest growing American whiskey in US history, and the portfolio is the Most Awarded American Whiskey or Bourbon of 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Their four ultra-premium whiskeys have garnered over 450 awards and accolades since the brand’s 2017 launch, with 54 Best in Class honors, including: Spirit Brand of the Year from Wine Enthusiast, two Chairman’s Trophies from Ultimate Spirits Challenge, back-to-back Master Blender of the Year awards from Whisky Magazine, Whisky of the Year from USA Spirits Ratings, and back-to-back honors of “World’s Best” at the 2019 and 2020 World Whiskies Awards.

Uncle Nearest is currently available in all 50 states and 12 countries, and is sold in more than 25,000 stores, bars, hotels, restaurants, as well as at its 432-acre distillery in Shelbyville, Tenn., dubbed as “Malt Disney World.”

Amiri Farris Headshot



Amiri Geuka Farris is a contemporary, multidisciplinary artist who uses a wide range of media, including painting, drawing, video, performance, and installation. As a contemporary African-American male artist, he blurs the boundaries between abstraction and representation, sculpture and printmaking, and contemporary and traditional. Farris writes of his own artistic practice, “I like to see artwork that will take one medium and use it to do something else. Artwork that is bold, expressive, and completely different.” In addition to being inspired by the materials around him to create dynamic and colorful pieces, Farris also looks to his own life as he creates works that are full of intimate personal experiences and examinations of subjects that are compelling to him, including issues surrounding diaspora, Gullah Geechee culture, memory, and perception.

Barbara Rynkowski Dance


Dance Champion & Instructor

Barbara’s passion for dance as a career path ignited in 2008 when she first stepped onto the competitive dance floor. Since then, she has not only embraced the art of dance but has emerged as a true champion in her field. Her remarkable journey recently led her to the prestigious Empire State Championships in New York City, where she demonstrated her mastery in both Smooth (Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot & Viennese Waltz) and Latin (Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble & Jive) dance categories, earning well-deserved accolades.

Beyond her achievements on the dance floor, Barbara has cultivated a strong educational background. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Delaware and a Master’s in Counseling from Wilmington University. Her commitment to education is further evident in her past role as a Faculty member of the Indian River School District, where she contributed to shaping the academic experiences of students.

Currently, Barbara is making a significant impact as a featured Ballroom Teacher at the Del Tech Adult Education Program. Her expertise and passion for dance not only shine through in her competitive achievements, but also in her dedication to imparting knowledge and skills to others. As she continues to inspire and educate through the world of dance, Barbara remains a dynamic and influential figure in both the dance community and the realm of education.

Sallie Ann Robinson headshot


Chef & Gullah Historian

Sallie Ann Robinson is an American cookbook author, celebrity chef, and cultural historian. A native of Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, she is noted for her knowledge of Gullah traditions and history.

In her own words:

“I am a sixth generation native of Daufuskie Island.  I love my life on Daufuskie Island. It has always been my home, and it is where I grew up learning the tough love way of life.

The Gullah people were and still are proud people that lives life off the land from their gardens, the woods and the ocean which were skills they learned at a young age and did things they would never forget. Their way of life was simple and sometimes hard, working to meet their day-to-day needs, not their wants. They were taught manners and respect for all, something I am proud to still use to this day.

My childhood gave me treasures of a lifetime, thanks To my ancestors and folks that are gone, but not forgotten. My experience about Daufuskie is a lifetime of knowledge as a native. I have given tours on Daufuskie for many years sharing the history of my family and what life was like then and now.”