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Chef serves up Ghanaian cuisine at Brixton pop-up restaurant

TOP OF THE CHOPS: Zoe Adjonyoh of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen

IRISH-GHANAIAN chef Zoe Adjonyoh, 37, is the founder of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant specialising in West African cuisine. Adjonyoh has long been serving up tasty and innovative Ghanaian cuisine for anyone part of her supper club and is quickly gaining a profile as one of the UK’s leading ladies on African cooking. The Voice caught up with her to talk about laying down roots in Brixton, bringing African food to the mainstream and her take on Jamie Oliver’s ‘jollof-gate’.

Why did you decide to have your first restaurant in Brixton?
This opportunity came along serendipitously right at the beginning of my two-month residency in Clapham. It all seemed to make sense. Brixton has a strong African and Caribbean community but there are also loads of people from different places that have a genuine interest in food. It’s quite important to me that it’s an experience and it’s the atmosphere around the food, service and the space you’re eating in – when you mix the community of Brixton it’s the perfect combination.

What inspired ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’?
It was really simple; my whole idea is about fusing the authentic ‘chop bar’ experience where it’s a little bit rough around the edges but combining it with contemporary dining. That’s the fundamental inspiration for how it looks and the second part was to make it feel like how the supper club felt in my living room, which is a very cosy intimate space with some authentic references to Ghana and the Ghanaian experience.

How do you respond when mainstream chefs take on traditional African dishes?
I think that it’s a good thing if someone like Jamie Oliver is saying ‘hang on, what’s this about Ghanaian food? Why is that interesting?’ It’s only a positive thing if someone is highlighting a type of cuisine that isn’t readily accessible to most people. If he’s doing that, as all chefs do, by bringing their own thing to the dish, they all do it their own way. The principle of jollof rice is a one-pot dish where you cook rice and stew. As long as you have the basics that suit your family and your palette you’ve got jollof rice.

Some people are going to come to me and say ‘your jollof is not the same as my mum’s’. Yeah, well, I’m not your mum, you didn’t come here for your mum’s cooking you came here for mine. All food is up for interpretation; the more people that are cooking a version of jollof rice the better. Maybe he pushed it too far for some people with his cherry tomatoes and rustic meat, I get that. People are proud of their jollof, it’s a national dish and want to preserve it but I don’t think he shouldn’t be so heavily criticised for trying.

How has the African community responded to the restaurant?
Generally, I’ve had really positive feedback, people have come in and they love what we’re doing, they love the concept, they love the fact that I’m attracting an audience outside of the community. People are behind the idea that African food needs to be more represented on the high street. Every now and then you do get a hater who is going to complain about something but that’s the nature of business.

What is comfort food for you?
Easy, comfort food and my favourite food ever would be my signature dish – peanut butter stew with lamb – some garri, yams and plantain. That dish is the reason this whole thing started. I used to cook it for friends and they would always come back, it’s a sell out at pop-ups and is an authentic dish with my little spin on it. Whenever I eat that I feel like I’m nine years old again.

When did you know that you wanted to be a chef?
I never intended to do this; it wasn’t something I set my mind to. It was kind of a course that took me with it and I thought ‘okay, this is happening, I better get better at it’ and that’s what I’m still doing. I’m still learning and refining. I’m always grateful and humbled when people come and say to me ‘that was amazing’. I didn’t know that this is what I would be doing. It’s just grown organically.

What do you have in store for the future?
Hopefully, we’re looking at a cookbook and hopefully in a year maybe another little [restaurant] like this.

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