Writer and chef Zoe Adjonyoh runs a successful pop-up Ghanaian restaurant – Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen. Here she shares with us how Zoe’s Ghana kitchen started, her most popular dish and plans for her forthcoming recipe collection.
What prompted you to start Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen?
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen begun by accident really. It started during Hackney Wicked Arts festival 2011, where I live. Noticing how many people were around for the festival and open studios I decided to set up a small table and make a big pot of peanut butter stew which I sold from outside my flat. I made a sign that read “Zoe’s famous peanut butter stew” and people were queuing to get some. It became a very social engagement and people kept coming back over the three days of the festival and left asking when I was doing it again. The following year, during the same festival I decided to change my flat into a restaurant. I emptied all the furniture and bought and made second hand tables and chairs, draped African fabrics and called it ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen.’ We sold out every day for three days and it was born.
How has the overall reception been?
Very positive, it has grown organically through word of mouth and good reviews. People have been very complimentary about the food and the overall experience.
Why Ghanaian food? Do you have any culinary training in that area?
I’m half-Ghanaian and half-Irish. I grew up eating the food I make, or at least with the ingredients. I’m not a trained chef, it’s juts home-cooked food.
What makes Zoe’s stand out from other African (especially Ghanaian) restaurants?
It’s a pop-up for start, so it’s temporary and moving, I guess this places it as another type of food experience. I’m taking traditional food and ingredients and putting them in an open, contemporary setting – making the food accessible and the food eating experience as sociable as possible.
Why do you think the whole Pop Up restaurant scene is so huge right now?
People always want to eat and are also hungry for new experiences… the pop-up world allows individuals or small groups to create food experiences at low cost and low risk whilst giving foodies a new world of cuisine to access and a new type of food experience.
When visiting your restaurant, one gets a sense of eating at an authentic chop bar in Ghana, How important is it for you to get the décor on point?
The décor isn’t meant to necessarily reflect an authentic chop bar, it’s meant to give a sense of that experience with a contemporary edge. Communality is important, everyone eating around one table or sharing tables with strangers and making new is important to me. The atmosphere is important, so time is taken with the aesthetic to create an ambiance that is cosy, welcoming and inviting that fuses the traditional with modern eating.
What has been some of the challenges of running a popup business?
What is your most popular dish?
Nkatenkwan with lamb, a peanut butter and scotch bonnet infused stew with slow cooked lamb on the bone and sweet fried plantain and gari is always the winner!
You recently collaborated with the Diesel and Edun partnership, catering for their Diesel Village store (London, UK). How was that? can we expect to see more of these collaborations?
That was great experience, really fun team to work with and great project to be a part of. I’d love to be part of more collaborations like that. We’ll see…
You also do pop-ups in Berlin, how is the experience there in comparison to London.
It’s pretty similar. It’s the same kind of mix of people attracted to the food and the type of experience it offers.
This summer, you were based at the Africa centre in Covent Gardens. Where else will you be?
I’m at the Africa Centre until 12th September, then I will be at various street food experiences such as One Hackney festival on Ridley Road on September 15th, will also be at the Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick for a residency and we will be collaborating with the Craft Beer Social club at my regular spot, Studio Gi in Hackney, on Saturday 5th October and Saturday 7th December. There are lots of places where you can catch us throughout October!
So what’s next for Zoe’s? Will there be plans to focus on a permanent location?
I’m working on a small recipe collection, would love to bring Ghana Kitchen to New York and other places in Europe. I’m not focused on being anywhere permanent; I like to keep moving, keep it interesting for myself and to bring the food to new audiences. I also need time to write so a fixed base would take up too much of my time!