Redefining Wonder Woman Series 9: Redefining Nigerian Cuisine

Months ago I stumbled on a Facebook account displaying Nigerian cooking in a way I’ve never known it. Most people don’t know much about African cuisine, talk less of Nigerian. Without chatting to her, it was clear from her blog and social media that she was a woman on a mission – to put Nigerian food on the map. It’s a huge ask to undertake but with 11k and 40.5k on Facebook and Instagram respectively, Dunni is well on the and as if to reinforce her vision, earlier this year, WayFair UK featured one of her recipes on their Father’s day blog. I would say that is quite revolutionary. Hope you like her story.

 Dun

RWW: Tell us a little bit about yourself
DK: My name is Dunni Obata, I am an IT Project Manager and I also have a Bachelors degree in Physiotherapy. I switched careers years ago and have been working in IT for four years now. 

RWW: What is Dooney’s Kitchen about?
DK: How many words would you like? Oh let me see…..Dooney’s Kitchen is first and foremost about documenting Nigerian cooking for posterity. It is a food blog focused on promoting Nigerian food and the possibilities that can stem from it. Dooney’s Kitchen is about breaking barriers and changing the perception of Nigerian cooking. My personal mantra is every Nigerian dish can be Dooney’s Kitchen Redefined.

RWW: What is your earliest memory of food and cooking?
DK: I really can’t pick an earliest memory because believe it or not, I hated food for probably the first 9 – 10 years of my life. Mealtimes were like torture, and my mother wasn’t the type to entertain comments like “I don’t like this food, or I don’t want that dish”. You ate what she cooked for the family, no questions asked. My passion for cooking probably stemmed from two things. Firstly, as the eldest child as well as being female, culturally I was expected to help my mum out in the kitchen. Secondly, and the most influential bit, was the strong need to cook my food MYself. Not that my mother wasn’t a great cook, she is a phenomenal one, but my taste buds were different and even at the age of three, I was aware of that. I knew exactly what I wanted my food to taste like. Cooking gave me the opportunity to make what I want, how I wanted it. 

RWW: Who or what inspires your cooking?
DK:  I was taught to cook by an entire ‘village’, from my mother to grandmothers, aunties and friends. I haven’t had any formal training yet but hope to register on some courses soon. The love of a challenge inspires me. I was the child you didn’t say ‘no’ to, because the next response would be ‘why’? I learnt quickly enough though to say, ‘yes Mummy’, LOL, but with food, I take no prisoners. Hearing “it can’t be done, or it shouldn’t be done that way”, gets the response, “why the heck not?” I also draw inspiration from the oddest places like a conversation with a friend, a TV programme, walking past a food shop. Even my beloved kitchen gadgets inspire me. 

Igbagba Ofofo or Gbagba Fofo. Otherwise known as Okro Peppersoup.

Igbagba Ofofo or Gbagba Fofo. Otherwise known as Okro Peppersoup.

RWW: When did you start blogging and why?
DK: I started blogging in 2013, and I am what you call an accidental blogger, because it wasn’t a decision I came to on my own. A friend of mine convinced me to start blogging. I used to put up display pictures on my BBM and she advised me to set up a blog as way of collating my recipes as well as putting an end to the multiple requests for recipes I was getting. ‘Just do it’, she said. At that time, I don’t think I had ever clicked on a food blog in my life. I didn’t know they existed. Of course I knew about food sites like Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver, but I wasn’t aware of food blogs as much.

RWW: Do you remember the moment you decided that you wanted to put Nigeria food on the world stage?
DK: When I started blogging, it was just an avenue to document my recipes, so I didn’t answer the same question fifty times. As I continued to blog, I realised the information available about Nigerian food was very sparse. Also, I could see that Nigerian food wasn’t perceived as a unique cuisine. It is termed African food, even by Nigerians. That phrase is one of the least favourite things I like to read or see. It symbolises everything that is wrong about how we are perceived as a people. Africa has 53 or is it 54 countries, and why of all the other continents are the individual countries labelled the same? Africa is a continent rich in history, culture and diversity. Why have we let that happen? As someone who loves a challenge, I have made it my personal mission to shine the spotlight on Nigerian food.

RWW: There is obviously the temptation to veer off into mainstream or more popular food. What keeps you focused on Nigerian cuisine?
DK: That is the only food I know, the only food I was brought up on, the only food I truly appreciate. As I said previously, I love the challenge of taking Nigerian food further than our community, so that challenge keeps me focused. 

Rice, Beans & Plantain

Rice, Beans & Plantain

RWW: What has been your experience so far?
DK: The experience has been better than I thought it would be. Expensive and very exhausting, but I love what I do and seeing where I can go with my blog encourages me, even more, to stick with it.

RWW: What do you enjoy most about cooking?
DK: The process. Even the prepping which I am not fond of. However cooking is like music and dance. Components, come together to create magic and I enjoy it. 

DK's Catering Services

Dooney’s Kitchen offers a private chef service

RWW: You are obviously close to your mum. Has blogging about food brought you closer?
DK: Oh it definitely has. She likes to remind of the times we fought over cooking and food. She often says, “thank goodness I didn’t let you win the battle of wills otherwise you wouldn’t have seen what you disliked turn into a success”, Whenever I get stuck on a dish, I speed dial her. When she discovers a new way of cooking something and she calls me to tell me about it. It’s great.

RWW: Do you have any advice for anyone starting a food blog?
DK: Don’t! Just joking. Do it because it is something you want to do. If you want to do it for the fame, it will chew you and spit you out. It is a lot of work, harder than you can imagine. Food blogging is tough – I will tell you that for free. So, be prepared for hard work.

RWW: What is your reaction to people who say you are an inspiration?
DK: I am still not used to it and  I pray that I always maintain that sense of wonder. It never gets old when I hear it and I hope that never changes.

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Frozen Maize Pudding

RWW: What are the highlights so far?
DK: The people I have met through what I do – people  I ordinarily wouldn’t have had access to. The other day Funmi Iyanda (Nigerian broadcaster and journalist) tweeted about Dooney’s Kitchen. Don Jazzy (Nigerian record producer) left a comment on my Moin Moinlette and followed my page. I have been privileged to meet so many successful individuals and entrepreneurs, too many to mention. The networking opportunities the blog has given me, are the highlights for me and of course, I hope to meet Jamie Oliver through what I do. 🙂

Moin Moinlette

Moin Moinlette (Bean Pudding)

RWW: You must have the highest number of kitchen gadgets I’ve even known anyone to have – bordering on an addiction. 🙂
DK: I love kitchen gadgets, because I love shiny things. I am excited my technology. I was also raised with kitchen gadgets. My mother had a number of Kenwood products so as soon as I could afford them, and had a kitchen and store cupboard I could call my own, the purchases started. These kitchen gadgets weren’t designed with Nigerian food in mind and challenging myself to see how I can adapt them to Nigerian cooking, makes the purchase well worth it. I recently made pounded yam using a hand mixer. I bet the people at Kitchen Aid have probably never heard the words pounded yam before. 

RWW: What does the future hold for Dooney’s Kitchen?
DK: World domination. Just joking. : ) Dooney’s Kitchen will be the reference point for all things Nigerian food. Twenty years from now, Nigerian food will be on supermarket shelves and it will feature on the dinner table on millions of homes. I think the problem we have had so far is that our food has been too insular. Dooney’s Kitchen will change the dialogue.

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Thanks Dunni.

If you want Dunni to cook for you, you can contact her via her blog. When she’s got her T.V show and chain of restaurants, remember you read about her here. 😉 In the meantime, you can follow the progress of Dooney’s Kitchen or see more of her mouth watering pictures on www.dooneyskitchen.com, Twitter @DooneysKitchen, Facebook DooneysKitchen and Instagram dooneyskitchen

RWW

Life After Forty

I have been mega mega mega excited about turning forty and I did almost three weeks ago.

One of my friends asked me why I was so excited and if I felt different. My response was I didn’t expect anything magical to happen when I turned 40. I genuinely feel it would be a sad day if life did literally start at forty. However, I’ve always loved the number. It’s like a magical coming of age. Like I’m finally an adult! ROTFL.

Forty for me, represents forty years of God’s faithfulness in my life. When I think back to when I was in primary school and then secondary school and then university; when I think about how insecure I was as a person; when I think that for 99.999999% of the time, I cannot recognise that girl – I am eternally grateful and thankful.

I am also grateful to be surrounded by a loving family and genuine friends. Family that I consider friends and friends that have become family.

One of the greatest things about being older and hopefully wiser, hehehehe, is that I understand the value of true, genuine and honest friendship. I’m not talking about knowing lots of people but actually knowing people that would sacrifice time, effort and even money for you. I am grateful to have such people in my life and thankful that I’m no longer interested in being surrounded by a crowd. I know the people in my life who I can count on; who will not desert me even when I annoy them; who also know how to get through to me because they understand me; who don’t make me feel like I’m bothering them or the feeling that it’s only one-sided – those are my friends. They are not always 24/7 in my life. I don’t always get to speak to or see them them regularly but I couldn’t reflect on my life without remembering each one of them and the ways in which they have contributed to my life. They are by far the best blessings life could offer.

And I am hopeful that if I made it through the past 40 years and it’s ended on a high note, then the next 40 years are surely to get better.

A Room Full Of Love

I went to a friend’s wedding over the weekend and I was reminded of something that has been resonating in my heart this year. 

My friend was what you would term an ‘older’ bride. A day shy of forty, she was as true to herself as I know her to be.

Her makeup didn’t make her look like a stranger; her dress was elegant with no trace of flamboyance; her train was filled with her nieces and children of one of her closest friends; everyone who was special to her, had a significant part to play in the day; her joy was effervescent and infectious. She was herself, the best version of herself that the world doesn’t always get to see.

As we progressed from the church ceremony to taking photographs; to the reception and then the after party, I was struck by one thing that sums up the whole day for me. They got married in a room full of love. 

There were no strangers at the wedding. In fact it was so intimate that there was only room for family and close friends. You could tell that everyone in the room had a relationship with them and the presence of love in the room was breathtaking.

I looked round the room at different points during the day, most of us had spent the best of at least eight hours with them. It was a Friday, which meant for a huge chunk of us, we took time off work.  For me, the thought of not being there, was unimaginable. We’d shared so many moments together and I wasn’t going to miss this one. I suspect for the best part of the room, that was the case.

At forty seconds to midnight, everyone started a countdown to the bride’s fortieth birthday. Ushered in by a kiss from her husband and cheers from loved ones singing happy birthday; I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate life.

My thoughts along the year have been about true friendship. And I’ve concluded that it really is important to remember in whatever I celebrate in life to make sure I am surrounded by a room full of love. 

It’s the most important element; more than the venue, food, decor, ambience, etc. If there is no love in the room, it’s guaranteed to leave you empty.

I have no doubt that my friend’s heart was full to the brim. How could it not be? In a room full of love.

  

-RWW

My Children Think I’m 18

Ages ago when my son asked my age, I said I was 18. He has gradually worked out that since then I am now 21. And if I am 21, I had him when I was 13. This does not reflect very well on my husband whose real age they know.

He, my husband that is, recently told me calmly that it’s time to tell my son how old I really am. Maybe he fears being accused of being some sort of deviant.

Well this year, I had to confess that I was in fact going to be 40 and not 22 this summer. To which they responded.”that’s old”.

I’m not quite sure whether I prefer being referred to as old or a liar?

Say A Kind Word

Do you notice the people around you? Those that work or live with you; day in day out. Do you notice the value they add to your life? Do you remember to encourage them?

One of the greatest things we can do to others is to affirm or encourage them. It costs nothing to say:

  • Well done.
  • Thank you for that report.
  • I notice all your hard work.
  • I appreciate the time you spent doing that.
  • Thanks for being there for me.
  • I’m glad you’re a part of my life.

It costs absolutely nothing to say a kind word.

As Poor As A Church Mouse

Sometimes, my children give me the impression that they don’t think I was educated.

Simply the way they talk to me about new things they’ve learnt at school. So from time to time I like to show off. Talk about the things they couldn’t possibly know like algebra and BODMAS. Yes I am a big big for nothing agbaya (Yoruba for someone who isn’t acting their age). 🙂

On this day, it was similes they decided to lecture me on.

I remembered a book we used in primary school that listed all the similes that existed called FIrst Aid in English. I reeled off some of the ones I could remember.

As swift as a …………………………………… deer.

As brave as a ……………………………………. lion.

As poor as a ……………………………………. church mouse.

Then they asked what it meant to be as poor as a church mouse. I replied, “well you wouldn’t really find food in a church in earlier days so it would be the worst place for a mouse to live”.

Then my daughter says, “yeah it must be because there is no cheese”. My son promptly adds, “they would have a lot of bread and wine but certainly no cheese”.

Their logic is right and probably a lot more advanced than mine at their age. I couldn’t help laughing. I guess they taught me.

Image from Clipartpanda

Being Female In Nigeria

Last night I stumbled onto the trending topic on twitter, #beingfemaleinnigeria and I was transported back to over twenty years ago. A lot of the tweets could be experienced by any other woman in the world to be honest but they were specific to the experience of Nigerian women today. Such was the furore over it, that it was trending at number 10 at some point in the U.K and reported on CNN.

There was a great deal about domestic violence, cultural restraints, gender inequality and downright misogyny. Of course as some men often do, they missed the point of the hashtag and proceeded to start #beingmaleinnigeria. It was sad to see that my experience from 20 odd years ago is still the experience of a lot women today and to dismiss that is utterly disindigenous. I for one am glad that women in Nigeria are speaking out about it. They have been silent for far too long.

When I was growing up, my idea of a feminist was based on the caricature of characters depicted in Hollywood movies. I thought a feminist was frigid, hated men, would never get married, wore androgynous clothes and was generally surly. She was always the one who didn’t have fun in the movie. More Bette Davis than Marilyn Monroe. Who wants to be that? So of course I grew up shunning the concept of being a feminist.

All the while, growing up in a home with no men, my sisters and I embodied feminism. We had no choice. We didn’t have the privilege of being damsels in distress. There was no knight in shining armour to rescue us. We just go on with it.

It was very odd for me to go to University, and sadly church too, and be told not to express my opinion particularly to me; especially an opposing opinion. The reasons given to me at the time were men didn’t like a woman who wasn’t submissive; you’ll never find a man like that; or in once instance – he’s the head of a cult which translated to you could be beaten up,raped or have acid poured on you – so keep quiet. Pretty much some of the things I read on twitter last night.

I just could never understand, why I could not express my opinion. Why because I wanted to be married some day I had to put a lid on my personality? No one sussed that if you marry a man who thinks you’re a shrinking violet, he’s going to wake up with Godzilla some day.

My world wasn’t a world where women were timid. The women in my world were bold. From my mum to my older sister; my cousins to my aunts; my grandmothers to my grandaunts. The women that surrounded me were bold achievers. So how do you take someone that’s a conglomerate of such a genetic pool and tell her to shhhhhhssh! Or tell her she can’t be what she wants to be because of her gender. I rebelled and rebelled sometimes quite violently (not physically) to the notion that I should keep quiet or hold back. It was absurd and I still find it ridiculous.

My daughter had inherited that gene too. Sometimes, I watch her defend her stance to her brother and I think, good for you. Let no one, put you down because of your age or your gender.

I’m not quite sure what will bring about a change, As I told my very Western feminist line manager once, a lot of it is inextricably linked to culture but it certainly helps that people are talking about it. The more people talk about it, the more people will see a different normal and then more activists will arise and then a little girl will grow up in a Nigeria where there are no limits placed on her other than the ones she chooses.

I may be mistaken but I have never felt that there was a professional glass ceiling placed on women in Nigeria. I’d go as far as saying that there are more opportunities for women in Nigeria than there are in the United Kingdom. When I was a young girl there were female broadcasters on TV, women were CEOs, government ministers, directors of companies and entrepreneurs. There was never anything that said they couldn’t achieve. However, now you may not get that job if you don’t sleep with the boss. The issue with Nigeria that this hashtag highlights is about a woman’s worth. The fact that no matter how successful she is, her worth is determined by a patriarchal society. No matter how successful she is, it is only complete if it is accompanied by a husband and children particularly sons. No matter how successful she is, she is still not meant to have an opinion that challenges that of a man. No matter how successful she is, she was created to satisfy men sexually. And domestic violence is very much alive to silence women who ‘misbehave’. No matter how successful she is.

It’s not enough for women to talk about it. It was wonderful to see many men engaging in the conversation last night. We all have a responsibility to the future generation of Nigeria to shape a new paradigm by our example.

Tell your daughters they were created equal and their worth is not determined by another human being. Tell your sons that women were created to be strong too and their strength doesn’t take away their masculinity in any way. There are other things to say about how men are regarded and treated in Nigeria as well but for today, the topic is Being Female in Nigeria.