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Time to chop

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Tokunbo Koiki

“MY ULTIMATE goal is to have Nigerian cuisine as a favourite choice on the London food landscape,” says social worker, turned entrepreneur Tokunbo Koiki.

Tokunbo means “From across the sea” in Yoruba, a language from the West African nation of Nigeria. As if perfectly chosen for her at birth, it seems that it is this Londoner’s destiny to bring Nigerian food to British shores in a new and refreshing way.

With dedication, motivation and the sheer desire to introduce Nigerian food to a more global market Koiki is bringing a new taste from across the sea. A single mother-of-one, Koiki is now the successful founder and owner of two culinary businesses – a supper club and pop-up stall.

Born in Camden, north London, to Nigerian parents, Koiki lived in Lagos for the first nine years of her life, an experience which shaped her taste buds and love of Nigerian cuisine and culture.

“For me, Nigerian food is mouth watering. It’s exposure of different tastes and textures, and there’s a very ceremonial feel to Nigerian food,” Koiki tells The Voice.

Though she has no professional training, cooking is second nature for her.

“I started cooking from an early age,” she explains “I remember my mum teaching me how to cook from the age of 12, and telling me I was already four years late, because she started to cook when she was eight!”

After years of home-grown cooking for family and friends, Koiki decided to turn her dream into a business reality launching Tee’s Food Corner, a pop-up Nigerian street food stall, in the summer of 2015. She followed this with Tokunbo’s Kitchen, which is a private chef and supper club service for people from all cultures to experience and enjoy authentic Nigerian food. The first supper club was launched in Tottenham, north London this spring.

“Tokunbo’s Kitchen is a space and opportunity for people to experience and enjoy the type of delicious home cooked Nigerian food I grew up eating. I started Tokunbo’s Kitchen here in London as this is a city that has shaped me into the proud British-Nigerian woman I am,” says Koiki.


CHEERS: Guests enjoy a night of Nigerian food and laughter at the Tokunbo’s Kitchen supper club [Photo credit: Michael Tubes/Wonderlusting]

The inspiration behind Tee’s Food Corner pop-up service was borne from sheer frustration. The cook felt there was a lack of authentic Nigerian eateries, and the ones that were out there didn’t provide the customer service or menu she was after.

“I don’t really go to Nigerian restaurants because I find the service very poor and the food is nothing that I couldn’t cook for myself at home.

“When I go out to dine, I go mostly for the experience, rather than the food. So when you go somewhere and the service is bad and the food is not up to par, it’s frustrating.”

But it wasn’t just restaurants that Koiki identified an issue with.

“I go to a lot of festivals, markets and outdoor events and I noticed that there were very few African food stalls. You’d often see Caribbean stalls, but rarely African food stalls.

“Then last year I went to a festival in east London, and I queued up for two hours just for some jerk chicken because there were no other food stalls I was interested in. And I thought it was just ridiculous.”

That same evening, Koiki, who has a Masters degree in social work, registered Tee’s Food Corner. A few months later, she booked her first stall spot at the Southbank’s Africa Utopia – the centre’s annual celebration of arts and culture from one of the world’s most dynamic and fast-changing continents.

“I had been thinking of this for a couple off years, so launching at such a big event was a great success for me,” she says.

“My main objective was to introduce Nigerian street food to a more global audience and the response was really great. I had a lot of Nigerians and Africans who were happily surprised that I was there. They were happy to see the food available in London. I also had a lot of people from other cultures who were surprised that our cuisines was very similar to their own.”


SIGNATURE DISH: One of Koiki’s jollof rice and plantain meals

The food enthusiast continues: “We have a dish called boli which is baked plantain. I had a guy from the Caribbean who was really surprised to see plantain on my menu, because he thought it was just a West Indian dish. It was an interesting experience. I learned a lot about other food cultures and realised that food is a universal language.”

Following her debut success, the cook booked a weekly pitch for Tee’s Food Corner at Brick Lane, east London. After three months of positive feedback, she decided it was time to sit down and finally make an official business plan. It was then, that she came up with the idea for her Tokunbo’s Kitchen supper club.

“In Nigeria, we say ‘Oya, come chop,’ when it’s time to eat. I want everyone to have the chance to chop and enjoy beautiful Nigerian food.

“I wanted to create an intimate, contemporary dining experience where I could provide food lovers with the opportunity to enjoy authentic food along with a cultural immersion celebrating the vibrancy and traditions of West African food and culture.”

She continues: “So I worked together with a business coach, put together a business plan and applied for a start-up loan from a charity.

“When I got the loan, it was a great boost for me. It gave me the validation that the idea I had wasn’t crazy, and the potential I saw for the business was possible.

Koiki’s love of Nigerian cuisine inspired her to launch these start-ups at a time when there is still not enough emphasis on celebrating the immense diversity of African cuisine, more specifically Nigerian delicacies in the UK and Europe as a whole. According to primary research undertaken by West African cooks, African and Caribbean-themed supper clubs make up less than one per cent of the entire London pop market share.

“We intend to fill that void,” Koiki says confidently.

For more information, visit Tokunboskitchen.co.uk and follow @Tokunboskitchen on Twitter

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