GASTROTASTIC LOVES EU FOOD – A MEGA POST FOR A BIG DAY

The day has arrived and the UK will decide its fate in a few short hours of whether it remains part of the European Union or shuffles off into the sunset solo. I thought it would be improper if Gastrotastic didn’t wade into the debate. Before, anyone decries me for having no business in the matter, having married and decamped to leafy and very far away from Blighty Lagos, I have strong credentials to get involved: firstly, I was born in the UK, Kent no less, the child of, whisper it, migrants, although back in the day the term was ‘political refugee’!

Some of the most vivid memories I have are not just of the trips to Brixton Market to get the ingredients to chow down on all things UG, but of trips to the delicatessen to discover the wonders of Europe via their amazing food. My mother, who as a young woman had travelled across much of Europe was always keen to instill with us a spirit of culinary adventure. And so our first trips to the various delicatessens dotted across London were all about discovering the textures and flavours of our new home. Add to this our family’s love of a slap up meal and dining out was added to the mix of foodie forays.

In case you hadn’t guessed I am completely #TeamRemain, but if you are still unconvinced by the food benefits our continental cousins have brought to your table, check out my food favourites from Europe, whittled down from an epic long list! And a little love letter to my UK favourites too!

Austria,

SACHERTORTE

Wow, those Hapsburgs were not playing when it came to cakes and puddings! If you can tear yourself away from snapping everything in 1st District in Vienna (old-school architecture porn if there ever was), then get yourself to a proper old school coffee house and order slice of Sachertorte. Chocolate cakes have been done in many a variation…and oftentimes the magic comes in the additions but apricot jam with another layer of dark chocolate on top is my official version of choco-heaven. The tart apricot brings the surprise to proceedings, and the dark chocolate icing is so gloriously luxe and decadent. This is grown up pudding eating. Fine, you can have some whipped cream on the side, but absolutely no sugary additions, dare to submit to death by chocolate. The best one I have had EVER was, obvs in Vienna in the Café Gloriette, overlooking the summer palace, as you do.

sachertorte

Belgium,

ARDENNES PÂTÉ

Okay, I know everyone would have assumed that I would opt for their biggest luxury food export which is chocolate, but Austria got their first with the choco=accolades. For me, the best thing food wise from Belgium is not moules-frites (although they are fan-f’ing-tastic), or beer (I am overall not a fan of the hops) but it is their pâté. And in particular Ardennes Pate. Consisting of an unholy trinity of pork fillet, pork liver and pork belly, this is the one pâté I defy anyone not to enjoy eating. Best with super thin cut baguette, lightly toasted and if you are really making things festive Gastrotastic style with a couple of cornichons on top.

ardennes pate

 

 

 

France,

Tarte aux Citron, Steak Tartare, Vacherin, Champagne, Bouillabaisse,

This whole post could be about French food, and I am not just referring to the spectacular-spectacular that is the cuisine in its fine-dining format. Let’s be honest here, even a ham sandwich is taken to the next level by our Gallic cousins! But if I am forced to distil it to my five greatest hits; for pudding I would say Tarte au Citron because NO ONE does patisserie like the French, and the sharp demi-sweet filling with the shortest of pastries is heaven.

tarte au citron

Next on this list is steak tartare; the genius lies in the elevation of raw ingredients into something magical (beef, egg, chopped onions and capers) could only ever be French.

steak tartare

For cheese it is all about baked Vacherin, although an honorable mention to the wonders of ripe Brie both chomped with the perfect baguette, although purists might beg to differ.

vacherin

To drink, my happy=place will always include a glass of chilled champagne; as Winston Churchill quipped; ‘in victory I deserve it, in defeat I need it’; but let all the pretenders (I am talking to you Cava, Prosecco and Sekt), bow down and concede that no one does fizz quite like the French do! Last, and definitely not least is Bouillabaisse. This is NOT a fish soup. This is an ode to the sea and all her edible treasures. You really cannot go wrong if you team robust familiar friends from the ocean such as turbot, monkfish and mullet with inexpensive and undesirable cousins such as rockfish and sea robin. Shellfish are a must from mussels to crab and if one is blowing the budget a langoustine artfully placed atop makes this last supper of one’s life worthy.

bouillabaisse

Ireland,

COLCANNON

Say Irish cuisine and the first thing that normally people reply is Guinness or whiskey if they are the sort to have a liquid supper and if not then potatoes. But for me, it is the wonder that is Colcannon that everyone who visits Ireland should have at least ONCE in their life. Before the likes of Gwyneth and Beyonce got Kale into the public consciousness and firmly aligned with the clean eating movement, there was Colcannon. An incredibly delicious combination of potatoes, kale (or cabbage if you prefer), butter, cream and black pepper. You see, definitely BEFORE the clean eating movement, but ambrosial in flavour and texture and the ultimate winter warmer dish. Some accompany this with some sort of meat, but I have been known to eat whole bowls of the stuff all by itself.

colcannon

Italy,

PARMA HAM, MOZZARELLA, SPAGHETTI VONGOLE, RISOTTO, PORCINI, PARMAGIANA

Trying to write about Italian food like French is a complete stresser, because so much of it has punctuated my every-day, that it is hard to keep things brief. A month without pasta is like some sort of purgatory. Parma Ham, to me the king of all cured meats when on an antipasti plate that must include buffalo Mozzarella, grilled artichokes and vine ripened tomatoes drizzled with olive oil is a human rights issue.

antipasti

Risotto teamed with porcini mushrooms are an earthy delight and if we are pimping our ride, shaved truffles on most things is the equivalent of hiring a string quartet to play Vivaldi whilst you dine at your kitchen table. Parmagiana eaten on its own, shaved on dishes, dipped in balsamic is waxy, creamy, wonderful. Dishes wise I am back in planet Pasta, this time Spaghetti Vongole: whether you do it Bianco with garlic, parsley, and olive oil or Rosso with the addition of tomatoes and basil, the clams, the stars of the dish, must be cooked quickly to avoid being a chewy mess and served hot.

vongole

United Kingdom

SUNDAY ROASTS AND A FULL-ENGLISH

The era of being sniffy about British cuisine is over. About British chefs even less so. Many would argue that London long took over as the world’s food capital in terms of variety, excellent execution and cutting edge conceptual cooking. But let’s take a step back, keep things confined in these fair isles and distil to the essentials. For me typing this thousands of miles away in Lagos there are two meals with metronome regularity that I crave for that are from Blighty: a full-English Breakfast and a traditional Sunday Roast. A breakfast of champions, the sort that makes the rest of the day’s successes and failures secondary consists of two eggs (fried or poached but the yolk must run, run , run!) and nestled to the side are sausages. This is where I do sound a little bit little Englander, no one, but no one comes near the British sausage, Brautwurst whatever, Toulouse, too bad, God bless the British Sausage!! Lincolnshire and Cumberland please and make that two because I am greedy. Bacon cannot be forgotten and for me streaky rather than back is the way to go, and it must be cooked a little bit on the crisp side so that there is a contrast with the sausage. A grilled tomato is a must as are baked beans and a mountain of hot buttered toast and a bottomless cup of tea! Do this once at one of London’s Grand Hotels – Claridges, The Ritz, The Savoy all completely represent or equally nice in a different kind of way an old-school greasy spoon in a gritty neighbourhood.

My perfect Sunday involves Church followed by a traditional Sunday Lunch with all of the Sunday Papers strewn in front of me and nothing too taxing planned for Monday morning! Yes, roast lamb, pork and chicken are perfectly nice but for me it is all about Roast Beef, ideally Scottish and I am cool with topside or rib, it just must be beef and ideally still rosy pink in the middle. Horseradish sauce is the only condiment that will do. Potatoes MUST be roasted and done so in goose or duck fat. We can talk about cardiac issues in another post. Vegetables, be they leafy, like chard, cabbage, kale and spinach or floret in form such as broccoli and cauliflower, all are welcome, just NEVER overcooked. Gravy not from a packet but from a long suffering stock is an essential and Yorkshire pudding is a do or die affair. So many places try and perfect this but there are only two places to enjoy a traditional roast, either at someone’s house, as the carb coma that follows is no joke and you might need to recline, or in a pub where leisurely drinking can continue until you can move again.

roast dinner

So there we have it, my European Food greatest hits! A shout out to Spain for Manchego, Serrano, Paella and Quince. Thank you Sweden for the wonder that is Gravlax. Portugal small yet mighty and home to Port and Natas. Greece, things might have been a ‘mare of late but summer is not summer without vine leaves, Tzatziki and Taramasalata.

If this delicious food odyssey hasn’t persuaded you to vote #remain and continue being part of the glorious European food family, nothing will!

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Fun at the Fair

They say money makes the world go round, but has anybody ever considered food for the same title? It is so much more than sustenance. Food is the light and colour in every day; from a carefully prepared breakfast to an anticipated late night snack, it has the power to delight, ignite, bond and inspire. It is for this reason that any major city worth it’s salt (pun entirely accidental) has a city food fair, and it was why I for one was beyond excited when the GT Food and Drink fair opened in Lagos.

food fair scene

It was a sizzler weather wise and organisers might not have anticipated the crowds that would descend in earnest to Oniru, but come we did. Amongst the hundreds of stalls I chatted to small producers and suppliers, all who had a passion for the Nigerian food industry. It felt a bit family reunion-esque as I ran into the Cookie Jar team (their new peanut cookie is a revelation) and saw other Food Heroes previously featured on Gastrotastic.com such as Nuli Juice. New discoveries came in the form of Eleojo Foods of Kogi State who convinced me of the merits of their pre-dried bitter leaf and Oh So Wholesome, gluten and dairy free snacks that were as addictive as a conventionally naughty sweet treat and were made by Oh So Nutritious one of Nigeria’s leading health food companies. My recommendation to readers? Buy and eat some more.

However, like any event there were a few superstar turns. At the fair celebrity chefs based in Nigeria and further afield (Marcus Samuelson of New York’s Red Rooster fame and Raphael Duntoye of London’s La Petite Maison were just two of the international stars who made the trip) wowed audiences with their masterclasses. I was thrilled to see Alex Oke of XO Boutique Bakery who is also the head pastry tutor at Nigeria’s Culinary Academy, on the roster of celebrity chef masterclasses, especially as I have experienced heaven by way of his patisserie creations. Known in the industry as the King of Bread, Alex’ baking masterclass was all about introducing the audience to the essentials of baking with a few insider tricks and tips thrown in for good measure. For those who had never experienced the carb nirvana that are XO’s creations the bakery also popped up at the fair with a few XO Boutique Bakery Greatest Hits on the menu. Worth the drive to Oniru alone this weekend (and Ikoyi on any other given day) would have to be the mozzarella and olive sourdough loaf, which drizzled with olive oil is meal magic all by itself, giving a new ring to the line in the Lord’s Prayer ‘Give us this day our daily bread’!

sourdough xo bakery

I also succumbed to a hearty slab of Sticky Toffee Pudding that was disgrace yourself and lick the plate clean worthy, or in this instance, container. In the mayhem of the fair itself I was struck by the chilled and professional vibes of Alex and his team who seemed so unflappable, even when managing the disappointment of the crowd who missed out on their sold-out-early stall’s goodies.

sticky toffee pudding xo bakery

I couldn’t end with this post without a Gastrotastic food soliloquy to the wonder that were my Urban Fuxion Ribs. It is unlikely I will ever stop being a carnivore. I come from Uganda, and in East Africa grilled meats are not so much a ‘thing’ but a way of life. Therefore, anyone who can do justice at the grill station will have my attention. The Urban Fuxion Pork Ribs didn’t just meet on taste expectations – this was barbeque meat – the unofficial masterclass. The pork fell off the bone and was so soft and succulent and melt-in-your-mouth fabulous. The rub and glaze was a perfect balance of sweet and finger licking sticky with heat and just spicy enough finish. I found myself channelling Disney’s Pluto and chewing on the bone after the meat was long done, I know not a lady-like high point, but when food is very good, propriety often goes out of the window. Also worth a mention was the fried rice accompaniment, studded with shards of red and green peppers, truly yummy, but no match for the main event ribs. I know there are other challengers in the Food Truck Scene (we’re talking to you Chef Niyi Williams of Corner Food Truck lol!), but I can honestly say that Urban Fuxion have well and truly thrown down the rib gauntlet and I cannot wait to taste their offering again and of course, the competition’s very soon! Let the food-truck battles begin!

It might be another year til the next Food Fair but with the food scene in Nigeria continuing to grow at a rapid pace, things will only get bigger, bolder and of course taste even better. My waistline might not thank me for this weekend’s exploits but that satisfied-by-delish feasts part of my soul certainly did.

pastry extravaganza

Gastrotastic Food Heroes: The Bakery Babe

It was the smell that hit me first. In the midst of the crowds that had gathered to dance and make merry in Freedom Park, Lagos for http://www.afropolitanvibes.com/ concert  I decided to walk around the park with bae and had become convinced that someone, somewhere was cooking something amazing. My olfactory sense did not let me down as soon we found a small cabin where a young woman was diligently icing cupcakes. Mystery solved.

temi cooking

Once inside, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting to the lady behind http://www.kiniyidun.com, owner and baker Temi Igbinovia, as well as sampling treats and ordering some of the most delicious baked goods I have had the pleasure of eating. This written by a woman who has walked the streets of Paris in search of the perfect Tarte au Citron (La Patisserie Cyril Lignac, since you ask) and makes an annual pilgrimage to the West Country of England for true scones with the obligatory clotted cream and jam (No, I am not telling!). The birthday cake, cookies and cupcakes I have since ordered from Kiniyidun did not disappoint, so it felt only right and proper to return to Freedom Park for an interview, and some more delicious cake.

thursday cakeBorn in Camden London,  Temi returned to Lagos as a child and remained there until  her first degree in Communications Design in KNUST, Ghana. It was whilst at KNUST that her food calling initially manifested, and she started a baking business with a friend that before long made them the toast of Kumasi and beyond. However, with graduation, the business came to a natural end and Temi travelled to London for her Masters in Character Animation at the prestigious Central Saint Martin’s.

“I decided to set myself the challenge of baking my way through the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and blogging about it.” Temi says “My blog Sweet Art By Temi http://www.sweetartbytemi.com was really an online journal for me but also an introduction for readers to baking and I quickly gained a wide readership with comments coming in from Nigeria, the UK and America”

biscuit

I asked her whether the baking interrupted with her studies, and apart from a season where her finals loomed, it was an opportunity to marry her love of food with her innate artistry. Although keen to return home after graduation, London with its multifarious food culture influenced her; concepts such as seasonal  consumption, additive free eating, as well as the importance of aesthetics would later inform the unique Kiniyidun offering.

“I knew I would never stay in London beyond my studies. It was too cold and grey. Having said that one of my big discoveries was Patisserie Valerie, obviously the Hummingbird Bakery and Busaba, which had the most incredible Asian cuisine. My academic mentor had an office in Soho, so this gave me the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of cuisines.”

But onto the magic that is Kiniyidun. I asked her why the name? What was the ethos of the brand itself and what were her long term plans:

“Kiniyidun is Yoruba for ‘This is Sweet’, it was important for me that the name of the bakery was rooted in my African identity, as well as giving a clue to what I make.” I probed her and suggested that there was a certain ambiguity in ‘sweet’, it could be literally about her being the purveyor of sweet treats but it could also be used colloquially for things that are in general amazing. “I hadn’t thought of that,” Temi said laughing shyly “But we don’t just do cakes so perhaps you are right, I make gourmet sandwiches and salads and we serve artisan coffees too. But yes, it is principally about the cakes and about the name being something my customers can relate to immediately.”

close up of the shop

Talk moved onto the cakes themselves: for those who are lovers of minimalism, precision and insane flavour combinations, then Kiniyidun is the place for you. I ask her about the cakes, which also come in tall options and oftentimes are decorated with tonal almost semi sheer  effect icing, with a smattering of edible gold dusting that can make you reluctant to cut the first slice.

another cake kiniyidun

“Yes, the cakes are definitely decorated with my aesthetic language in mind. I see myself as principally an artist and that is reflected in my work. Animation and graphics are rooted in my decorating style, hence the black ink effect wording for the messages, presented on a white icing disc, and the precision in additional artwork. I even designed my logo, and the aesthetic is something customers noticed immediately, even before I moved to the Freedom Park space in August last year and I was working out of home for a year. I believe art can be appreciated by all, and should not be limited to what we see in a gallery, hence my cakes looking the way they do.”

all white cake

What of the challenges of sustaining her standards in the challenging environment of Nigeria? Had supplies and sourcing proved difficult? Temi was quick to answer:

“Many of the challenges of Nigeria would be the same with any business start-up. You have the issue of training people, the power issue is ongoing, but essentially the business has grown out of ours and our customers’ passion for our cakes.  We have worked hard to educate people away from artificial colours and flavouring in how we do what we do, and most of our ingredients are sourced in Nigeria, allowing us to create seasonal recipes too. Ideally in the future we will expand, not just across Nigeria but the rest of Africa.

temi baking some more

As our time comes to a close, I couldn’t resist asking Temi whether she had a favourite flavour of cake she made; she responded it was ‘like picking a favourite child”; I asked her of her most audacious baking plan and she replied ‘baking her own wedding cake’. I know, I too was in awe of that!

I think we can expect to hear a lot more of Kiniyidun. The quality speaks for itself, Temi’s passion oozes through all the work and her small team are as dedicated as the lady herself! Food Hero? Absolutely, especially as she is conquering Lagos one exquisite bite at a time. http://www.kiniyidun.com

rose cake kiniyidun

 

 

The Naked Cake

Nude Cakes have always been a very, very exciting concept to me. As someone who has always loved sweet treats of all kinds, and cakes in particular, the idea of a cake devoid of icing, standing on its own terms of flavour appeals to my occasionally purist nature. I must also add at this point that I am not a massive fan of icing. Yes, there are quite a few of us who diligently scrape it off for any number of reasons. Often times it is either too sweet, or too hard, or comes in colours so lurid that only the under 12’s would cheer in anticipation of consumption. My other issue with icing is when the cake to icing ratio is so out of synch that it really does become all about the icing, with cupcakes being a particular offender in this instance, with their swirly pyramids of the stuff. I witnessed the pinnacle of icing worship at a fashion party, where the cake had been dispensed with altogether and instead guests were offered icing shots all on their own!

But back to nude cakes, the little black dress of the pudding world, could they be found beyond the organic food shops, farmer’s market stalls and trendy patisseries I had left behind overseas or was I to resign myself to a cake eating hiatus as my pudding palate needs were no longer properly met? My answer came in discovering Rosalita’s , based in Yaba, Lagos, and committed to championing nude cakes in all their glory and curiously, Sangria too.

My first cake sample came at a tasting where I had the pleasure of trying the carrot and chocolate varieties. Cutting into the cake I was struck by how moist it looked, after months of seeing cakes that on sight let alone taste looked as dry as the Sahara, this was already promising. And as for taste: the plate scraped clean of crumbs was testimony to the exquisite flavours, where the carrots, nuts, dried fruit and spices shone and the good quality cocoa was not obscured by an over the top sugary coating. Being a caring, sharing sort I ordered cakes to share with colleagues, aiming to convert them too to the ways of the nude cake. This time I opted for the rum raisin and the chocolate rum raisin. The rum raisin tasted like an edible cocktail with its boozy hit and the chocolate rum raisin felt like the intense and sexy sibling to the chocolate cake I had previously tried and loved.  Again, it was a case of cleared plates and smiles all round.

It's all about the cake

It’s all about the cake!

I am delighted to type that there is still more to try on the menu: the banana seeming too tantalising to resist. Not only that, but visiting the website and having downloaded the app (yes, it really is that delish), I couldn’t help notice that the menu read like my ultimate pudding playlist: Crumbles, Cheesecakes and Scones all present and correct. At some point I may have to get disciplined, but right now, let the feasting begin!

Gastrotastic Food Heroes: Nuli Juice Company Taste Test

In the second part of our Gastrotastic Food Heroes special on The Nuli Juice Company, we bring to you the taste test. I know, some of you might counter that this was hardly an arduous job to complete, but as the saying goes, someone has to do it, and do it we did with a delivery of nine flavours from the signature collection. If you are reading our blog for the first time, you can find out more about Nuli  and the food hero behind it, Ada Osakwe in our previous post.

Whilst we all know the phrase about not judging a book by its cover, I cannot begin this review of the juices without mentioning the gorgeous packaging. Before you’ve even taken a sip, you are already anticipating bottled goodness, and that is exactly what you get with nothing exceeding much over 200 calories per 250ml bottle.  Guilt free glugging – Praise Be! Of the range of juices sampled at Gastrotastic Towers, all were excellent, however as with all things, there were some knock-out stars:

No Dairy Required

Bananarama  (Banana, Almond Milk, Ginger) 136 calories per bottle

In a category all by itself, is this healthy alternative to a milkshake. For the lactose intolerant, vegan or those just trying to get rid of the extra roll in their mid-section, Nuli have created a wonder shake that is truly scrummy.  The magic comes in those locally grown bananas which have the perfect level of sweetness, teamed with almond milk with its nutty aftertaste, and when pepped by the ginger, one doesn’t miss the sugar or the dairy at all. Fabulous to drink on its own, I couldn’t help thinking this would be insane mixed with bran and flax and dried raspberries, just call it Mazzi’s breakfast gets pimped courtesy of Nuli!

11116597_1423258461314884_1832988945_n

Green Juice Flavours:

Mint Bliss (Mint, Pineapple and Cucumber) 132 calories per bottle

That Morning Kick (Lettuce, Cucumber, Celery, Apple, Lemon, Ginger) 178 calories per bottle

Green Zest (Spinach, Pineapple, Cucumber, Lime, Ginger) 82 calories per bottle

I have always been a massive fan of green juices, and this was before making one’s diet more alkaline had even become ‘a thing’. Of the three that I sampled, That Morning Kick was probably the truest, and the one that being pineapple free, had the vegetable intensity that I love in a good green juice. If you are waking up feeling sluggish after a heavy night or seeking to jumpstart a healthy eating plan this is definitely the one for you. An honourable mention must be made to Mint Bliss and Green Zest, both of which reminded me of walking through a sunny meadow, barefoot, with a gentle breeze behind me. They both had the clean taste of cucumber coming through but as they are lighter and sweeter in taste would go particularly well with a snack of smashed avocado on wholemeal toast for that double dose of green goodness!

thtmngkick

Yellow Juice Flavours:

Dr Nuli (Pineapple, Ginger, Cayenne Pepper, Apple Cider Vinegar) 165 calories per bottle

Tropical Heat (Red Bell Pepper, Pawpaw, Mango, Pineapple, Parsley, Basil) 73 calories per bottle

The Simple Life (Carrot, Lemon, Ginger, Pineapple) 159 calories per bottle

The yellow juice selections really showcased Nuli Juice Company’s creativity in flavour combinations. Dr Nuli might have a medicinal sounding name, but this was a detox elixir reimagined for the tropics. The addition of Cayenne Pepper, renowned for its immune system boosting properties, and Apple Cider vinegar that is great for maintaining clear skin, also adds heat and depth to the warmth provided by the ginger. It was a definite case of sad-face when it was finished. Tropical Heat’s ingredients read like a salad, but what one gets is a complex juice that is both sweet and savoury and extremely smooth on the palate, probably my favourite of the three and the one that had me still thinking about its taste the day after. The Simple Life is a great re=invention of a carrot juice blend, which is normally teamed with apple but here is substituted for pineapple with lemon and ginger bringing further zing to proceedings.

dr nuli image

Pink Juice Flavours:

Nuli Dream (Watermelon, Lime, Mint) 101 calories per bottle

Spice Root (Carrot, Beetroot, Lemon, Apple, Ginger, Orange) 203 calories per bottle

Okay, so technically, these aren’t really in the same family in quite the same way as the others as there is no common ingredient, but one is light pink in colour (Nuli Dream) and the other a deeper tone (Spice Root), plus one has to group things together somehow so please forgive me. Nuli Dream is a real treat as watermelon is conventionally teamed with something sweeter but the addition of lime and mint gives it a clean and herbaceous finish.  However my hands=down favourite and possibly the drink I could order by the crate full forever is Spice Root ; one sip and I felt, I don’t know, alive and oh-so=happy! Onto technicalities: the carrot and ginger is set off by the earthiness of the beetroot and the lemon and orange bring a citrus note which is sweetened by the apple. Bliss in a bottle.

Nuli Juice

Technology hasn’t yet advanced to the extent that I can embed smell and taste into this post, but then that would diminish the fun of discovering the incredible range for yourselves. So buy online or pop into Café Neo or Nuts About Cakes if you live in Lagos to enjoy the deliciousness that is Nuli Juice. As for me I’m going to spare myself the drama of being low on supplies and become an official online regular!

nuli logo

Gastrotastic Food Heroes:  The Juice Queen

Lagos, like every other global mega-city, has a food scene that is evolving at a rapid rate. Gone are the days when the only options out there were traditional Nigerian cuisine and that other go-to favourite, Chinese. Amidst the fast-food chains and quick fix hits you can pick up from a road side vendor, people are seeking cleaner, healthier options, and I for one was missing my morning treat in London of a green juice picked up on my way to work.

Call it a Back To School thing where the inner nerd inevitably pops out, or just us always seeking out as many of the culinary goings on as we can, but Gastrotastic is pleased to present a series on local food heroes who are setting the culinary agenda in Nigeria. Today, we open with The Nuli Juice Company in a special two-part article.

FINAL Nuli lineup (2)

Nuli is an organic juice company that was founded by Ada Osakwe, who is passionate about promoting healthy lifestyle products without compromising a jot on flavour. Nuli is using the ultra on-trend and best in terms of nutrients extraction, cold pressed method for creating the juices and here’s the extra exciting bit, all of the ingredients are grown and sourced locally in Nigeria. So far, so virtuous, but do the juices taste any good? Luckily dear readers, I had the task of sampling some of the range and my thoughts on which flavours were particularly off the scale delish; although to be fair they were all fab (this barely felt like work), in our next post. But first more from our Food Hero and founder of the Nuli Juice Company, Ada Osakwe:

What made you decide to found Nuli? 

For the last three years, I worked with the Nigerian government as the Senior Investment Adviser to Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s Former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. In this role, I was intensely exposed to the Nigerian food and agriculture sectors and got to appreciate how Nigeria is the largest producer in Africa of most horticulture crops and a diverse range of fruits and vegetables grow abundantly across the country. For example, did you know that we’re the largest producer of pineapples in Africa? And the 2nd largest producer of Citrus fruits in the world?!

However, I was alarmed that due to the lack of storage, processing facilities, and suitable immediate markets for farmers, up to 60% of these fruits rot away and are wasted.

fruits galore

So I got thinking about how these locally grown fruits and vegetables could be used to create value-added products that can create the demand for farmers’ hard-earned produce, while addressing unmet needs from Nigeria’s rising population of consumers.

I started my own juice company with a laser focus on directly sourcing these fruits and vegetables from Nigerian farmers across the country and adding-value to them through Nuli cold-pressed Juices. At The Nuli Juice Company, we aim to inspire a healthier and happier generation in Africa by making fruits and vegetables the cornerstone of every consumer’s diet with a product that is a convenient way for customers to live a healthier lifestyle.  Through our company, we are also helping create a steady and sustainable means of livelihood for hundreds of farming families across Nigeria.

What have been the challenges of production in Nigeria? 

These have mainly been operational. I’m totally dedicated to sourcing 100% of all our raw materials locally. Our fruits and vegetables are grown here, our bottles are produced by a local manufacturer, our box packaging is made by a local printer, as are our bottle labels, and even our stylish freezer bags are made by a great company out in Surulere, Lagos. Managing this has been challenging especially since I tend to push the local artisans to produce at the highest level. I’m very protective of the Nuli brand and only want the best and more, so when I get sub-standard quality, I freak out. We have had times when our stock levels have been very low on certain items and just when I am happy that deliveries will be made, they come and the printing is wrong, rendering them useless. So my blood pressure rises and I get stressed out!!

Nuli Grass

Where are you currently stocked? 

We started with a direct-to-customer delivery model, with a plan to get closer to the customer through partnerships with local businesses who serve as distributors. In Lagos, Nuli cold-pressed juices can be picked up at Nuts About Cakes, the stylish bakery and café on Rumens Road, Ikoyi, at Aima’s Organic Box in 1004, Victoria Island, and at Neo Café on Akin Adesola, Victoria Island and Mulliner Towers, Ikoyi. In Abuja, we continue to deliver directly to customers through phone and online orders. Our Abuja concept store, The Nuli Juice Bar, will be opening at Food City in Wuse 2 within the next few weeks, where customers will be treated to the Nuli lifestyle experience. The Lagos edition will be coming before the end of the year.

the simple life

On your website you offer juice cleanses. Have Nigerians embraced the juice fast concept? 

Yes we do offer the Nuli juice cleanse as part of our product range, and these tend to be quite popular because we pay special attention to the combination of juices in our cleanse packages to ensure optimal benefits to our clients.

But at The Nuli Juice Company, we are more focused on helping Nigerian’s realize the importance of making fruits and vegetables a cornerstone of their diet. So our Nuli Club juice box subscriptions are increasingly becoming more popular as clients prefer the idea of having a box of 6 or 12 of their favourite Nuli juices delivered to them every 2 to 3 days. This way, they can have cold-pressed juices with their meals, replacing the unnatural, highly processed, sugar-filled soda drinks like Fanta and Coke, and the packed juices like Fumman that are made from concentrate.

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Do you have a favourite juice in your range? 

Now that’s a big NO. Actually, I do have favourites at different times: Right now I’m drinking ‘The Simple Life’, and yesterday I was in love with ‘Spice Root’. I personally came up with each recipe we have so far, and they were made with a lot of thought to taste and optimal nutrition. Most importantly, they were all crafted with love!

Nuli Juice

What our clients love about us is that we are able to give them a much wider range of cold-pressed juice combinations than any other brand in the market. We started with The Nuli Signature Collection, a delicious range of 6 premium cold-pressed juice recipes. But over the last 2 months, we have launched 3 new cold-pressed juice recipes, one of which is my current favourite – ‘Dr. Nuli’.

Would you consider yourself a food hero? 

Not at all! I would consider myself someone who has been fortunate to have a rich and diverse global career. I have had the chance to work in the private sector and at the top levels of public sector. I have travelled to over 50 countries in the world through my work. I have worked in investment banking, capital markets, private equity and infrastructure finance, mainly focused in Africa.

I’m so excited that I’ve finally found my passion in food, and all I pray and hope for is that my life is a positive example and inspiration for the many young people who work with me and who come across me.

Completely random, but we have to ask, what’s your favourite meal? 

Erm, okay. It’s so not healthy but I am a sucker for a good pasta dish. Specifically, a prawn pasta in garlic and white wine sauce. Yum!! But oh my, the calories in that one!!!! Sigh, living healthy is certainly not easy! But I keep trying! J

So whilst Ada, has very humbly stated she is not a food hero, we at Gastrotastic.com beg to differ. The Nuli Juice Company truly is transforming the food scene in Nigeria. As well as providing consumers with some of the most delicious juices I have tasted, championing healthy lifestyle choices, and creating a premium market for local farmer’s produce, she is doing it all with love.

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Check out tomorrow’s post for the Gastrotastic review of the range, and if you cannot wait, go straight to www.nulijuice.com to order your own box of deliciousness!

Weekend Feasts

This weekend just gone was an unusual one as not once did I set foot in a kitchen; instead I feasted in a number of ways and so I thought it only fair that I give my round up of what’s cooking, good looking and super fantastic in sunny Lagos. My pit-stops included a six course gastronomy dinner held to celebrate Martell Cognac’s tercentenary held at the Oriental Hotel, a pilgrimage to Lekki to sample ice-cream and a Sunday lunch in Ajah where a new soups was introduced to my ever expanding palate.

But let’s start with the glamour and gastronomy first; a special dinner hosted by Martell Cognac as part of a year’s celebrations for their 300th birthday. I am a big fan of birthdays, so was happy to slip on my requisite little black dress and vertiginous heels and raise a glass to one of the world’s best cognac producers. It seemed rather appropriate that apart from the Martell blue carpet instead of the usual bore-snore red one, that parent company Pernod Ricard should choose Lagos as one of the global pit-stops for the year’s celebrations. For one, the belle monde of Lagos love their luxury and more than represented at the party itself, second Jean Martell, the founder of the eponymous cognac’s own life story reads like the best Nollywood movie; a man with a bold vision, a serial entrepreneur and one who suffered numerous setbacks, even bankruptcies before seeing his cognac become the choice tipple of the elite!

We were first treated to a cognac tasting; and got to sample three from the Martell stable. The first I tried was the Cordon Bleu, one which my novice cognac tasting palate noted could go rather well with food. It had a floral almost cinnamon bouquet or nose as they say in the business, and a deceptively smooth finish. I then moved on to the Caractère, a recent addition to the Martell family having been launched in 2013 and the cognac that was paired with five of the six courses we were to eat later. The nose was more tropical fruits this time and I detected a spicy and nutty finish on the palate. It was this sweet savoury combo that made it work particularly well with all of the courses. Finally, I sampled the big-daddy of them all, the XO. Is it correct form to say the nose was very rich man’s study? I say this because the notes of leather, dried fruits and nuts in the nose had me thinking of leather wingback chairs, walnut paneled interiors and someone with a deep voice who closed mega-deals on a regular. The finish was equally luxe and rich it is no surprise that it was paired with the beef course later.

The food; and it pains me to write this was not quite as super-fabulous as the drinks. This was in no way the fault of the kitchen, but rather that murderer of many a big culinary dream, time. The invitation clearly stated 7.00pm but sadly the masses chose to arrive very fashionably late and I can only imagine the havoc this caused with food that had been prepared to go out at a certain time, sitting idly under heated lamps, until all the guests were finally seated. I shan’t pick out the courses that suffered worst from the fate of being luke-warm, having pieces of protein that were in peril of drying out completely and sauces that had settled into a static puddle. However, the crème brûlée that had not been in contact with a blow torch made me particularly sad face. It was not all sad news though, I inwardly cheered at the soup course, a classic creamy tomato with the rather genius addition of Beefeater Gin and a perfectly crisp garlic bread for mopping up the magic at the bottom of the bowl afterwards.

Deserving of a paragraph all of its own was course six; which were possibly some of the best truffles I have tasted, and I have gone through quite a few in my time. They were prepared by local food hero and renowned pastry chef Tolu Eros of Cookie Jar fame. We had a selection of truffles to eat, that incorporated cognac but with the added flair of Tolu’s fantastic flavor combinations, these became more than the usual chocoholic hit. Two days later and I am still thinking, no meditating and in a general state of thanksgiving that I sampled the raspberry and pistachio truffles. They were so good, and my only hope is that they wind up on Cookie Jar’s menu, you heard it here first!

Tolu's Terrific Truffles

Tolu’s Terrific Truffles

My other food forays took me on to the Lekki peninsula; the first was to Ice Cream Factory, an ice cream and specialist dessert café that has a cult like following. Judging from the children I saw jumping in the queue in excitement and the number of people coming in having preordered, collecting frankly gigantic take-away packs, I figured It must be pretty special. I was sad that my favouriteice cream flavour, salted caramel was out but I enjoyed the Hokey Pokey a vanilla ice cream that had honey comb incorporated in it. From the Italian gelato menu, the Amareno was definitely something worth writing about, with generous amounts of wild cherries running through it. My only note to self was to follow the pre=order crew next time as I felt a little too old for the pop music they had cranked up on to full volume and the teens who were flirting and squealing in the table behind me. Sunday lunch was a surprise for me, as I was expecting an at-home buffet of the ilk you get at most houses: the mountain of jollof rice, the egusi that’s aroma dominates the room forever, the crazy high pile of swallow-du-jolur, and some give yourself a heart attack stew at the end with some super dry difficult to chew fish and chicken for afters. Not at Mrs Ebilah’s house though, who deserves a special mention for giving Naija grub a clean and lean redux but keeping all the essential flavours intact: the chicken and fish were barbequed rather than fried, resulting in smokey, flavoursome meat, yes, I am salivating as I type. But my favourite new thing she introduced me to on Sunday was Banga Soup – who would have thought that the Nigerian name would translate so aptly in English into how good it was ? This was most definitely a banging dish. Made with pine kernels and in this instance with chicken as the principal protein, it was rich, but not in a so oily everything is lost way, and there seemed to be layer upon layer of flavour, which was explained to me as being a result of the many processes required to create it. I went back for thirds, clearly not my most disciplined meal time but when food is this good, it is rude not to.

So the take aways for Gastrotastic readers today; blow the budget and buy yourself a bottle of Martell XO, and if you live in Lagos double or quits it with some of Tolu’s truffles, make sure there is a supply of Ice Cream Factory ice cream in the freezer just in case, and find an Auntie who can provide happiness on a plate that AKA Banga Soup.