A couple of weeks ago in Belsize Park, I stumbled across the pepperandstew range outside Budgens. I was pleasantly suprised to find an African food product with none of the slap-dash labelling, awful contrasting colours and a grinning, fat 'mammy' type face staring back at me. This product brands itself in a style up there with Pataks, Uncle Ben and others. Finally I thought to myself, someone out there has taken the time to nurture and transform the way African food products are branded and produced.
I spoke to Racquel the founder of pepperandstew.co.uk whose range of products include egusi stew, Jollof rice sauce and more. I immediately bought the Jollof rice sauce and cooked it when I got home. Needless to say, I was not dissapointed. There are even other recipe suggestions for those not familiar with Jollof rice allowing others to use the sauce with pasta. meatballs etc. Wow! Finally a brand that thinks outside the box allowing African food to lend itself to variety. All I can say is that this is good news for those of us who are tired of African food remaining in the dark, lagging behind Indian and Caribbean food and quite frankly coming last for all the right reasons.
I spoke to Racquel to question her about her venture............
Describe the defining moment when you decided we all needed Jollof rice sauce to be bottled like pasta sauce?
Since I started making West African dishes over 12 years ago. I always thought about how long a process it was to cook these dishes. ! Time is not a luxury we have in the West, so why not cut some of these processes down just as every other world cuisine has done!
Where are your parents from?
A lot of African food products fail miserably when it comes to branding. Can you tell me how you were able to overcome this with your products?
Good branding is costly; it was my mission from the beginning to find a good designer with a proven record who could deliver what I needed. An authentic African product that could easily fit in on the shelves in Sainsburys or Tesco. This is the goal…to get African cuisine into the main stream.
What food range have you produced so far?
So far we have Jollof sauce, Egusi stew sauce, Palm nut sauce and Shito, which we are calling The African Fish Sauce. We also have a mild and extra hot version of the Jollof sauce.
Where can I order your products if I cant find it in a store near me?
Right now you can order on www.pepperandstew.co.uk.
We are talking to a couple of online retailers right now and updates will be posted on our twitter page and Facebook page. If you would like us to stock in a store near you then let us know at email@example.com
Whats your favourite African dish?
I love love love a peanut stew with sadza. Mainly because I grew up eating this as well in Zimbabwe. I would love to add this sauce to the range but have been having difficulty with the shelf life without using artificial preservatives.
Whats your least favourite African dish?
I still cannot deal with eating snails.
Whose your favourite African Artist?
I have plenty of those. I listen mostly to African music. I love Oliver Mutukudzi , Leonard Dembo , Thomas Mapfumo ,Thandiswa Mazwai , Fela Kuti to name a few.
Can you give us a recipe to go with one of your products?
Of course here is a quick meal for two.
You will need:
4 ripe plantains
1 can of tuna
1 tin black eyed beans
1 jar of Egusi sauce
Cut onion finely
Add about 2 tbsp oil in a pan and heat it up
Add the onions and fry till soft
Add drained tuna and fry for another five minutes
Pour the contents from Egusi stew jar and a little water.
Add drained beans to the sauce
Add some salt and pepper
Leave to simmer 15-20 until sauce thickens.
In the mean time boil water in a saucepan, peel and cut each plantain in half and add to boiling water.
Cook for about 15-20 mins
Serve plantain with bean and tuna stew.
Where would you like to see pepperandstew in the next five years?
As I said the goal is to go into the main stream UK and Europe. African cuisine is like any other world cuisine and needs to be recognised world wide.
We will have more ranges to offer. We will be in supermarkets throughout the UK and Europe. We want African cuisine to be up there with the rest and Pepper and Stew will aim to make this happen.
What sort of obstacles have you come across whilst trying to realise your dream?
There hasn’t been many obstacles, we have just started but I would say at the moment it’s trying to get people to understand our products and what the brand is about which is convenience and quality in African cuisine. Convenience foods are not anything new in other world cuisines. It’s not anything we cannot deal with though, we just need to educate people on the benefits of our products, which are producing quality meals and saving time making them.
Any African heroes?
My late mother. She was a very kind, intelligent and brave woman. She left school to fight in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle came back finished her education while raising me. She died too young but I know she watches over me. I hope to make her proud one day.
What African country would you love to visit in your lifetime and why?
I would like to visit all of Africa in my lifetime, especially rural Africa to get a glimpse of how we lived, what we ate and how we still live and what has changed.
Thank You Racquel for taking the time to speak to WestAfricaCooks, we wish you luck with pepperandstew.co.uk and encourage our devoted readers to try out your food and post comments.
For more information visit www.pepperandstew.co.uk.