Here's a One-Night-Only Nigerian Dinner You Won't Want to Miss
All photos courtesy Tunde Wey
A year ago, Tunde Wey and partner Peter Dalinowski opened the doors to Revolver, a sort of permanent pop-up space in the Detroit metro area. Open just a couple nights a week, the concept brought in different established and up-and-coming chefs for prix fixe dinners, which ranged from modern American to Filipino to Indonesian to Japanese. With communal tables and an emphasis on celebrating culinary talent, it was an innovative new addition to the city's burgeoning scene.
Still, Wey, a Nigerian native who has resided in Detroit for 14 years, was hankering for more. With only a slight inclination of where he wanted to go next, he amicably sold his share to Dalinowski several months ago and then hopped in his friend's car and started cooking his way around the United States.
But that wasn't exactly his intention when he decided to hit the road for New Orleans. He knew he wanted to travel and he knew he wanted to cook food from his soul -- he just wasn't sure how that would all go down. "I had a north star, but I didn't have a direction," says Wey.
Then it hit him. "I'm, like, 'Fuck, I should just make this a tour,' " says Wey. He started reaching out to friends and restaurateurs. Pretty soon, he had gigs set up in New Orleans and Chicago, and then he set something up for his planned trip to Minneapolis.
Wey is now slated to host dinners in Buffalo, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and, finally, a midweek, midnight dinner in Brooklyn on Friday, December 19, at Pacifico's Fine Foods (798 Franklin Avenue, Brooklyn; 917-966-2670).
For the series, Wey is aiming to avoid the pretentiousness of so-called foodie culture and get back to his roots (he hates the way many gourmands try to break down and fragment food). With an arsenal of recipes he's learned from his mother, brother, and cousins, he is preparing regional Nigerian food. Each meal cooked is prepared just the way Wey wants it to be; there are no special accommodations or substitutions. To him, it's more about a holistic approach to enjoying food. "Today's food culture borrows heavily from wine culture," says Wey. "When I was at Revolver, people were always talking about notes, aromas, and flavor profiles. I want to shift people by their collar and say, 'Shut the fuck up and enjoy it. Don't tell me what it tastes like or harkens to.' "
So what does regional Nigerian look like? Expect to see flavorful, spice-filled dishes. The cuisine uses a wide range of spices and herbs, such as crayfish seasoning, different peppers (alligator peppers are one varietal), scent leaves, nutmeg, and other spices.
For his Brooklyn dinner, Wey is cooking eight dishes. Several will incorporate some form of goat in an homage to Eid al-Adha, the Islamic "Feast of the Sacrifice" -- a goat or lamb is usually the sacrificial offering, which is then incorporated into a meal.
Here's the menu:
- Jollof rice - similar to a rice pilaf or jambalaya, it's stewed in peppers, tomatoes, and a spicy broth.
- Fijohn - a bean-based dish with black beans and coconut pudding. It's popular for Easter and Good Friday
- Goat peppers soup
- Egusi - a thickened stew of ground melon seeds and pumpkin leaves
- Isi ewu - a goat head stew with nutmeg and peppers, garnished with bitter leaves
- Dodo - fried ripe plantains (similar to maduros)
- Dun dun - fried African yams
- Abacha - warm tapioca salad
Given the success of the series, Wey has been discussing opportunities for opening a Nigerian-inspired brick-and-mortar in his hometown. His hope is to offer Nigerian takes on American comfort food; he really wants to expose Western palates to his native cuisine. "Nigerian is one of the most communal and democratic foods," says Wey. "It's shared by so many different groups and peoples. For me, it's about letting people know that African food doesn't have to be served in a dive or be dirt-cheap; it's just as haute as French or whatever you put it against. It should be just as valued as a continent for its dishes as Europe. I'm making a socio-geopolitical statement with food."
The dinner takes place Wednesday, December 17, at midnight. The cost to attend is $65. Visit fromlagos.com.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
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