The new Nigerian kitchen: Will you accept us or nah?
Since the advent of food bloggers like Dooney’s Kitchen, The Kitchen Butterfly and people like myself, Imoteda and Michael Elegbede, the New Nigerian Kitchen Movement has been real. Ozoz Sokoh in particular has really gone lengths to use authentic Nigerian flavors to reinvent what we know as Nigerian food. The New Nigerian Kitchen is actually a phrase coined by Ozoz Sokoh aka Kitchen Butterfly. The phrase is befitting as it embodies what so many young and fresh food enthusiasts and chefs are trying to do. Ozoz’s approach is more about rethinking how we use our local ingredients. Dooney for example focuses on how modern technology makes cumbersome Nigerian kitchen techniques, like making Amala with an electric whisk as opposed to the wooden spoon and vigorous beating like you’re at war, possible.
We (Chefs) are trying to create a new visual and textural approach to Nigerian food because we believe Nigerian dishes have a place on fine dining menus too. I mean some of us are ready to move past our grandmother’s and ancestor’s recipes that we’ve known and loved. It is time to add flavor to what we already know and create our own recipes for the future. To put it succinctly, it’s time to tell new Nigerian stories through food, our own way.
In more recent times, I started to truly look inward. I had played with the truffle and foie gras. I had done all the Australian rib-eye steak. Wait, I haven’t done all, I still love cooking with them. The marbling on a waygu ribeye is from God himself. Again, I thought to myself “What about us?” “What about our own?” I had done my almighty updated seafood Okro but I need to do more.
Thankfully, events like BIG 60 organized by the Whitespace Creative Agency highlighted my take on the new Nigerian kitchen when we had to create a menu that fused British and Nigerian food. From breadfruit chips with fish to ugu chicken raviolis that had a pepper-soup pumpkin sauce to a braised suya pork chop with sweet potato puree, I started to really see how Nigerian flavours could take new shapes and come in new ways.
As a chef in 2016, things have to be done a little more precisely; plate with Michelin-star restaurant excellence and deliver on flavour too. However, the general Nigerian audience seems very averse to such. Everything still has to be “local” and abula style. Nigerians believe if it’s not buka-looking, it isn’t authentic enough.
World Jollof rice day was a few weeks ago and i turned out this modern looking plate of Jollof risotto and fried meat that was treated like seared steak with plantain and Jollof stew. After posting the outcome on Instagram, i patted myself on the back for a good job well-done and was pleased to receive applause from a bunch of people. Not shocking however, i still got a few people saying that God forbid they ate this kind of Jollof rice because if they ever made and served such in their house, they would be rebuked and possibly disowned.
Please note that I made this dish thinking of new ways we can export our food and make it more appealing to everyone irrespective to race or tribe. That’s just one of the many comments I get from time to time. The jokes of “This suya travel abroad and got masters degree” are cute at first but I wonder if, at the end of the day, the New Nigerian Kitchen is going to get any love.
I have come to almost accept that Nigerians would never be the ones to champion and embrace the new Nigerian kitchen movement. I have learnt that it’s those outside who would appreciate this new approach to Nigerian food and frankly, I do not mind if everyone does not appreciate the change. As the saying goes, everything ain’t for everybody.
My friend, Chef Imoteda and I are going on a Nigerian Food Fusion Tour in a few cities around the world from the UK to the USA to Canada and of course Nigeria. We have decided to take our food out and start to show a new side to our Nigerian story. Some of us want to add to the already amazing heritage that is Nigerian food but its time to chart new courses. I give props to other chefs like Michael Elegbede who left all his glory at the highly acclaimed 4th best restaurant in the world as of 2013; Eleven Madison Park and has come back home to set up ITAN, a new Nigerian food restaurant which uses purely local produce to make the finest dishes possible.
I can’t but appreciate my fellow contributor and friend Ozoz, who is the mother nature of all of us food buffs. From her scent leaf curry to her reinvention of Puff-Puff to her yam waffles with toasted garri and danbunama, Ozoz has countless ways of using humble ingredients to show dynamic creativity.
Dear Nigerians, please I think the summary of my rant is that we should be a little more open. Stop wondering if the food will ‘bellefull’ (satisfy your hunger) you and look forward to a gastronomic experience instead. Also to the crowd looking for people like me, please be a little more vocal. Come for our food tours and events, celebrate our creativity on social media and start trying new things or new ways in your own kitchens. Let’s start to pass new discoveries down to our children too.
Long live Nigerian Food and Long live the New Nigerian.
For more information on the food tour check our www.hitkitchen.com/nigerian-fusion-food-tour/