Is 2023 The Breakout Year for Nigerian Cuisine?

Nigerian music and even our movies may be popular all over the world, but this is not a fame our cuisine enjoys; although more people outside the continent are increasingly familiar with African dishes than they were 10 years ago.

With recent events, however, it seems that this is set to change, and it has got us wondering: is 2023 the year of the Nigerian cuisine global takeover?

Can African dishes be considered haute cuisine?

When we say haute cuisine, the focus is less on the classic French definition as it is on the dishes that incorporate its principles.

ofada joolof rice with plantian and chicken from the Itan test kitchen
It is not impossible to incorporate the principles of haute cuisine in African dishes, but insufficient knowledge about said dishes and African ingredients make it a rare occurrence. Image courtesy of Itan Test Kitchen

Back to the question above, you would probably say yes, but the reality is different. Most top culinary schools do not focus on African foods and ingredients, and, even when they do, there is usually no in-depth exploration of their capabilities. It is probably why African dishes are not considered fine dining, and also why you may be hard-pressed to find restaurants, whether top or mid-range, that include them in their menus.

Yet, as chefs like Chef Moyo and dining establishments like the Itan Test Kitchen are showing, our African dishes are as haute cuisine as they come, and it is only a lack of knowledge about their possibilities that has restricted their reach and adoption by non-African and even African chefs.

Until now.

Hilda Baci and the making of a world record
Hilda Baci's Guinness world record put Nigerian cuisine in the spotlight
Hilda Baci’s world record broke even more records and put the spotlight on Nigerian cuisine. Image courtesy of Hilda Baci

When Hilda Baci decided 5 years ago to break the Guinness World Record for the longest cooking marathon by an individual, her goals were simple: “Put Nigerian cuisine on the map [and] … inspire young African women to chase their dreams.”

Not even she could have fathomed the reach her cook-athon would have: by day 2, her official cook-athon handle announced that over 1 million people had live-streamed the event. On day 3, not only had it started streaming on DSTV, a popular satellite TV service in Africa but organisers also had to close the gates of the venue to visitors as it had reached full capacity.

Upon announcing that she had indeed broken the record, Guinness World Records received so much traffic that they confirmed that their Twitter post announcing her win was their “best-performing tweet of all time,” and also that their “website crashed for two days due to the immense volume of traffic … received from her legion of loyal fans.”

It is safe to assume that the popularity of this single event has definitely caught the attention of chefs from other parts of the world, enough to pique their interest and set them on a path of discovering and exploring African dishes and ingredients.

Chuku’s Nigerian Tapas Restaurant: from Beyoncé’s approval to global dining stage

For Beyoncé, giving a grant to the businesses around the venues of her ongoing Renaissance tour was her way of saying thank you to the communities that welcomed her and showered her with so much love. For Chuku’s, a Nigerian tapas restaurant in north London, the $10,000 grant was the beginning of a new chapter, one that afford them the opportunity to introduce Nigerian cuisine to the world.

Emeka and Ifeyinwa Frederick of Chuku's specialise in Nigerian cuisine
Emeka and Ifeyinwa Frederick started Chuku’s to share their love for Nigerian and African cuisine with a wide audience. image courtesy of The BBC

Chuku’s is owned and run by siblings Emeka and Ifeyinwa Frederick. It started off as a pop-up in 2016, and following years of success, the siblings decided it was time to move into a building, a decision they actualised in February 2020.

Sadly, their opening coincided with the global coronavirus-induced lockdown, and, in spite of the love they received from their community, they soon began to grapple with soaring costs and shrinking disposable income among their customer base. The struggle to keep their doors open was on, and, by the end of 2022, it was clear that they were running (an increasingly lost race) against time.

And then, the Renaissance Tour came along.

Ahead of her highly-publicised tour, Beyoncé, through her BEYGOOD foundation, had announced that small businesses in cities along her world tour could apply for the Black Parade Route initiative, a fund that highlights and supports small Black-owned businesses. One of the cities was London, and even better, the concert took place at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 782 High Road, a few kilometres from Chuku’s 274 High Road address.

The Fredricks wasted no time in taking advantage of this opportunity: they applied for the grant before its April 27 deadline, and quickly spread the word that they would be open even past their normal hours to cater to the Renaissance crowd, encouraging the latter to pre-book and creating a healthy feeling of FOMO around their service.

Their efforts paid off. They sold out their tables, secured the £8000 grant and dominated the headlines of major media outlets in the UK and the US. With the publicity they received, they now have a bigger customer base beyond their local community and the UK.

2023: the breakout year for Nigerian/African cuisine?

It may be a bit of a stretch to think that 2 Nigerian culinary brands whose efforts have drawn more attention to African cuisine translates to global adoption and acceptance. But, this is an excellent step in that direction, and, because of their achievements and those of countless others who continue to introduce our dishes to people of other cultures, 2023 might just be the year you walk into the Waldorf Astoria in say, Dubai, and staring right back at you on the menu is a dish of amala rolls dipped in spicy gbegiri and tomato soup, and topped with mint leaves.

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