It all started five years ago with a baby belling stove and a large pot of West African Peanut Butter Stew sold out of her studio flat at Hackney Wick Arts Festival. Now young British foodie and former Goldsmith’s student Zoe Adjonyoh is at the forefront of a new wave of Ghanaian food in London and across the UK.
Adjonyoh, creator of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, hopes to give the public a taste for something different by serving up traditional Ghanaian favourites with modern twists such as griddled lamb cutlets with a spicy peanut sauce; jollof spiced fried chicken and her own take on kelewele (spiced ripe plantain).
“It’s great to be a part of the African Food Revolution,” Adjonyoh said. “We’re all about making Ghanaian food and flavours accessible to a wider audience and that’s what we’ve been doing for several years now.
The concept behind Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen is to “put good-quality West African food on the high street, where it rightly belongs alongside Mexican, Italian and so on,” Adjonyoh explained.
Since its humble beginnings, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen has been serving ‘home spun, home cooked’ Ghanaian fusion dishes at markets, pop-ups and supperclubs across the London, Berlin and more recently Russia as part of their Decisive Action Festival.
“People went crazy for it,” said Adjonyoh. “I began by transforming my live/ work unit into a restaurant space and called it Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen – it has grown very organically since that point through referrals and passion.”
Adjonyoh’s Ghanaian supperclubs and cookery classes hosted from her home in Hackney Wick have gone down a storm and last month her streetfood “Chop Bar” was showcased at the African Street Style Festival and dancefloor and street food pop-up Turntables.
Adjonyoh is not a professionally trained chef; instead she learnt her culinary skills from her Ghanaian father and Irish mother who had influenced her attempt to contemporise traditional dishes without diminishing their authenticity or flavour.
Adjonyoh’s modern interpretation of Peanut Butter Stew is one of the key dishes of West African cuisine. According to Adjonyoh it is the best food in the world because it is both easy to make and delicious.
“It’s like my childhood comfort food,” she says. “You slow cook lamb on the bone so you get the nice marrow in there, and there’s spicy scotch bonnet-y sauce behind it which you can have thick or thin. It’s a people pleaser dish.”
Another Ghanaian staple is jollof rice, which is differently spiced depending on the region you are from. “Almost everyone familiar with Jollof has a different recipe for it: nobody’s Jollof is as good as their mother’s or grandma’s, but the principle is always rice cooked in a spiced blend of tomatoes and onion which gives it its rich red colouring,” Adjonyoh explained.
What epitomises Ghanaian jollof for Adjonyoh is the sweet heat from Scotch Bonnet chilli and the inclusion of ground crayfish. Together these ingredients create a distinctive smoky fish flavour with a kick of chilli to warm the palate.
Constantly developing her dishes to keep herself and her customers interested, a recent trip to Ghana helped Adjonyoh uncover new recipes and develop a better understanding of the different regional Ghanaian cuisines. Adjonyoh has also befriended the Ghanaian ladies at Dalston’s Ridley Road market where she gets recipe tips and sources essential ingredients such as alligator pepper, Kenkey, agushi and ewe leaves.
It’s not just Adjonyoh who is knocking hard on the door of London’s foodie scene; Ghanaian cuisine is having a bit of a moment.
This year Tesco began stocking Jollof rice in their ready meals counter, while African food website Pepper and Stew are selling their spices and sauces – including the much-loved Ghanaian Shitoh Pepper sauce – on the shelves in Harrods. Even mainstream chef Jamie Oliver who last year posted his own interpretation of Jollof rice is helping Ghanaian food become more accessible.
On the street food trader front, Chatsworth Road Market regular Chalé! Let’s Eat opened a new venue in May serving healthy Ghanaian fast food in Stepney Green, Tower Hamlets. While the long meandering queues outside Broadway Market Street traders Spinach and Agushi are testament to the burgeoning demand for Ghanaian gastronomy.
Always keeping busy, Adjonyoh is looking to sign a publishing deal for a recipe book and in May opened a new fixed restaurant in a shipping container at Pop Brixton – a new space which aims to support local jobs and enterprise.
It seems the advent of street food and pop-up restaurants are driving the Ghanaian food movement by giving the public a taste for something different. “It’s not so much been hidden as underexposed,” says Adjonyoh.
Now it’s just a waiting game for Ghanaian cuisine. Get there first, spread the word and discover the wealth of unique flavours on offer!
Adjonyoh recommends 2-3 dishes per person. Mains start at £5.50.
For more details visit http://zoesghanakitchen.co.uk
By Scarlett Alexander