In the heart of London’s Brixton, Zoe Ghana Kitchen is serving up some tasty Ghanaian dishes merged with a contemporary dining experience. We caught up with Zoe about her little gem of a restaurant.
NU People: Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen has a very Ghanaian vibe, from an area like James town or Elmina. What feel were you trying to capture?
Zoe: It’s taking that kind of casual coolness, pop of colours, contemporary recycled chop bar vibe that you might find in James town.
NP: What was the idea behind the menu choices?
The menu and the mission in general is about celebrating the amazing flavours and ingredients from West Africa generally and specifically Ghana, as that is my heritage.
But it is also about showing people who have not experienced that kind of food before, and for other people, from that heritage another way of using those ingredients and using them in other ways. The menu here is 50/50. You got groundnut soup and light soup. There are traditional dishes and re-imagining versions of dishes or dishes celebrating the ingredients in different ways. Introducing to people other ingredients that they are not used to cooking with.
Zoe: I was very lucky. Brixton was on my radar for a while when I was looking for potential venues. But traditionally Brixton high street rent was particularly high . But for this particular site, I found out about it a little by accident because I overheard people talking about it and it picked my interest. I found out there was 2 days until the closing application deadline. I had a residency in a kitchen in Clapham at the time, I did the application while being in the kitchen. They invited me for a meeting, they fell in love with the concept of modern contemporary West African food, but they were pushing me more towards having a street food kiosk, but I was determined that I wanted to test the African restaurant concept. So, I insisted on having a restaurant. I persuaded them and it has proven to be a great success. Why Brixton? It’s because it’s a vibrant and diverse community of people. All my ingredients are on my door step, my clients are on my door step. It has become a food destination for people as people come to Brixton to eat out.
NP: Arguably, West African and African food has not had the same level of success in comparison to Caribbean food. Why do you think that is and what are you doing to counter that?
Zoe: I think there are loads of reasons for that. Mostly, growing up my experience of going to African restaurant was that it’s mainly made for the community. People were not thinking about who outside of the community might want to come and want to eat it. The restaurants were never designed to look or make everybody feel comfortable. That is part of what we are trying to do. It is about making it accessible. That is why we plate it differently, we try to make the place feel cosy, comfortable and welcoming. It is just about being completely opened to everybody.
It is for people who feel adventurous about food and in life, people who want to try new things. We explain what the foods are and what the ingredients are, we encourage you to try as many things as possible.
We plate it in a contemporary way so that it is not too unfamiliar. I think that there has definitely been an increase in the number of young, food West African/Pan-African people doing supper clubs, street food and pop up in residencies now in the last couple of years who have seen that model and been like ‘yeah I will shout out about my food and change it a bit, contemporise it and show it to the diaspora and other people.’
I think that in the African community, people cook for weddings, naming ceremonies and these are traditional things, a family affair. I remember when I went to school my friends would come to my house for dinner and would have never seen the food they would eat and feel like wow.
It is about recreating that en masse. Its about inviting everybody in instead of keeping it a secret.
NP: Do you think that it has worked? And what kind of reaction do you get from people who come here trying the food for the first time?
Zoe: Generally, people who come here love the food because, they have never tried it before. It’s good food, we use good ingredients, we ethically source our stuff. We are conscious of the fact that the footprint of some Ghanaian food is quite big.
We buy local and shop local. We get organic meat and organic vegetable. We pay homage to the flavours and ingredients for those who come from West Africa.
NP: Can you tell us about the book and what direction you are taking with it?
Zoe: The book came out April 20th. It is very much a real reflection of everything that I say, it is more of a guide rather than a didactic approach on how to use Ghanaian ingredients. It is talking about the ingredients that a lot of people pass by every day and do not know how to use them. It’s in 2 parts. The first part is about showing traditional recipes and saying here is how you could cook them. And the second part is about saying here are some ingredients and here is how you use them. Part of the food thing for me is also about representing Ghanaian culture in a more interesting way than traditionally put. I grew up in the 80’s where there were a lot of negative stereotypes coming of Africa. So part of my thing is also about saying, check out African music, check out African fashion, check out African art. So in the book I tried to show more about Ghana. There are pictures of my trip to Ghana, I have a playlist of Afrobeat misic. There are stuff in there to lead people to other aspects of Ghanaian culture. It also tells a personal story about why I started to cook and why I do what I do. It’s been a way for me to get In touch with that side of my heritage and to share it with other people.