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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 (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.
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