MASTER CHEF: Jason Obeng
IN RECENT years, supper clubs have captured the imagination of UK food lovers.
A cross between a restaurant and a private dinner party, they offer people a more intimate experience than they might get at a traditional restaurant and the opportunity to socialise around food.
People from all walks of life who love food get together to experience new tastes and flavours in an exclusive setting.
Now one entrepreneur is determined to give this new trend a distinctly African flavour.
Londoner Jason Obeng wants to bring the Ghanaian food that he grew up loving and the hospitality that the country is famous for to this new audience of supper club enthusiasts through his venture, Jason’s Little Kitchen.
Launched late last year, the events are held once a month at different venues in London.
Up to 40 people attend each event after booking a place on the Jason’s Little Kitchen website. Diners can expect a real taste of Ghana with a Western twist through dishes such as creamy groundnut soup, traditional rice balls, slow-cooked chichinga with grass-fed chicken and chin chin biscuits.
All the dishes are made with organic and locally sourced ingredients.
Obeng is part of a new wave of African food ventures such as Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, Spinach and Agushi, Eat Jollof London and Chuku's Nigerian-inspired tapas lounge that are bringing diversity to the capital’s culinary scene.
NEW STYLE: Obeng is among a number of food entrepreneurs hoping to reach a new audience by serving traditional African food with a European influence
The 27-year-old believes there is a gap in the market that Jason’s Little Kitchen can fill.
“There’s definitely a demand for something like this” he said. “I’ve received a huge amount of e mails and messages from people saying ‘thank you for putting this on and trying to bring our food to the masses and present it in a different way’. This positive reception makes me feel that the African community really wants this.”
He added: “I think there’s a real desire for somewhere where they can call their own, a home from home if you like and the supper club format fits this desire perfectly. Someone comes to an event, they’ll meet a stranger, they’ll get along, they’ll be chatting away and then they’ve made a new friend. It’s not a thing where you’ve got your own table. Everyone mingles together, tries new food together and at the same time I’m introducing a bit of my life and the food I grew up with to a whole new group of people.”
However, there were doubters who tried to put him off the idea of pursuing the project. “When I told people that this was what I was going to do they said ‘don’t do it, it’s not going to work.’ They felt that Caribbean food is better known and is easier to market so something like an African themed supper club wasn’t going to stand a chance. Before Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen came onto the scene, there were very few African restaurants trying to appeal to a broader market. There’s also the fact that the way African food has been perceived hasn’t always been in the greatest light.”
The anger expressed in the West African online community when celebrity chef Jamie Oliver created a recipe for jollof rice by substituting some traditional ingredients with those easier to find in Europe in 2014 also caused Obeng to doubt whether he was doing the right thing in fusing African and Western culinary styles.
NICE TO MEET YOU: Diners at the supper club events get to meet new people as well as enjoy the food
“What I remember was that people were so angry about it. And I thought to myself ‘If everybody is so angry and I come in and do something, change it up a bit and add my own twist, are people going to be angry at me?’ But then I thought even if they are, I’m going to have to go forward with it otherwise I’m never going to get anywhere or achieve what I’m aiming for.”
Obeng’s love of cooking was inspired by his mum Diana while growing up in Ladbroke Grove, west London.
“When I was younger me and my friends all used to eat the same stuff from McDonald’s or KFC. It was only when I got older and started mingling with people from different cultures that I experienced a variety of cuisines. In Ladbroke Grove where I’m from I grew up with people from Morocco, Bangladesh, and then I had my Caribbean and white English friends as well. This made me more willing to explore the Ghanaian food that I’d grown up with.”
He continued: “The aromas of my mum’s cooking often made me impatient to eat the food she’d made. Over the years that love for Ghanaian food got stronger and I wanted to learn how she prepared such tasty meals. That curiosity led me to explore original West African ingredients whilst helping her to prepare our family meals. Then I started to add my own twist to some of her recipes such as using different seasoning or vegetables.”
This family influence continues in the running of Jason’s Little Kitchen. Mum Diana, brother Aaron, sister Jane, and dad Ernest all play a crucial role in supporting the fledging business alongside his close friend Krystal Frimpong.
And they are all focused on helping Obeng achieve his next big goal.
“I hope that in the next three or four years I will have a restaurant that truly shows the beauty and heritage of African cuisine in a way that everyone can be proud of” he said. “For me, it’s about trying to portray African food in the best light and using the best ingredients so I’m not doing this half-heartedly.”
For more information about the supper clubs, please visit www.jasonslittlekitchen.co.uk