African food is no longer just about cooking jollof rice, we are now in the midst of serious entrepreneurs expanding culinary ideas and turning African food into a serious business. The global African food movement is everywhere, today we touch down in the Netherlands and invite you to meet Ebere Akadiri founder of Atarofoods.com. Ataro foods provide training and advisory on West African foods, consulting in restaurant development, and help develop a food processing supply chain for organisations interested in market developments in West Africa. Ataro foods also has their own product line. We were very excited to speak to Ebere to find out more....
Questions And Answers About Atarofoods
Where is Atarofoods based?
Ataro Food and Spices is based in The Hague, the Netherlands. Ataro Foods has a mission to introduce West African cuisine, spices and ingredients to Europe. We do this through cooking workshops and by sourcing high quality West African food products and spices to the international audience.
Why have you chosen to rewrite the narrative on Nigerian food and why do you believe this is necessary? Has this been a challenge for you?
I chose to rewrite the narrative on Nigerian food for many reasons. First, I noticed that other countries’ cuisines were represented on the international shelves in the Netherlands, including, Indian, Mexican, Italian etc. West African cuisine is not represented at all. Meanwhile, there are over 40,000 Nigerians living in the Netherlands, not to mention the rest of the African nationals. It is necessary for Africans to rise to the occasion and debunk the myths and biases against Africa as a whole, and to show the world there’s beauty in Africa. We can do that through food and culture narratives.
What inspired you to write the cookbook ‘Vibrant West African Cuisine’?
It has taken me two years of careful planning and preparation to sit down and write the Vibrant West African Cuisine cookbook. I intended to write this book to help teach my children the traditions and values of their West African heritage, and also to teach the whole world that, though we may have our differences, there is more that unites us than divides us. Diversity is truly the new spice of life. (Excerpts from Vibrant West African Cuisine cookbook)
The idea to write a Nigerian cookbook started in 2015. After holding several cooking workshops where I introduced the culture and recipes of Nigeria to an audience outside of the Nigerian community, I thought of helping a wider audience outside the Netherlands to experience the vibrant cuisine of West Africa. First, I recorded a video cooking course because it was easier to package. I tried so hard to complete the cookbook but at one point had to let go of the dream.
Recently, when I saw the number of Nigerian girls that were drowned while trying to cross the sea to come over to Europe, my heart broke. All I could think of was to launch a project to support these young women and girls, so they can be empowered and work for themselves without risking their lives to cross over to another country illegally or be lured by traffickers. As those thoughts overpowered me each day and night, I realised that I could finalise this cookbook and ask people to contribute to the cause in exchange for my cookbook. That single motivation allowed me to finalise the book and find all the partners required to launch it. I didn't think that I would achieve it so quickly, but here I am getting ready to support these people and, at the same time, realising my dream of sharing my work on West African cuisine to a broader audience.
Tell us about your Beauty in Every Life "Keep Dignity Alive" Campaign to prevent human trafficking in Nigeria
The proceeds from the Vibrant West African Cuisine cookbook go directly to Beauty in Every Life Foundation, to fund the campaign, Keep Dignity Alive - an advocacy and empowerment project aimed at preventing human trafficking and supporting survivors of trafficking and Nigerian women who are at risk of being trafficked or sexually exploited. The project is in Nigeria.
Beauty in Every Life intends to create public awareness on the dangers of trafficking. It will educate young women, families and communities in Nigeria on how to detect and avoid being trafficked, will create alternatives to provide decent livelihoods to at-risk young women through entrepreneurship and leadership education. For more information about Beauty in Every Life please visit: www.beautyineverylife.org
Your Cookbook Vibrant West African Cooking covers different African food. Why didn't you just write a Nigerian Cook Book?
My cookbook represents my beliefs and body of work in the Netherlands. I believe that Africans are stronger together and therefore, I support projects related to Africa as a whole. The recipes shown in my cookbook are mainly foods you can find in different West African countries, since we share similar food and culture which is quite different from the South, East or North African regions. Nigeria is a highly represented country in the world and I’m proud of my country. When it comes to cuisines, you hear about Asian Cuisine, Mediterranean, and South American cuisines, etc. I want West African Cuisine to be added in the World food map, and when we come together we can achieve that faster.
Where can we buy your cookbook?
You can buy my cookbook from our webshop, www.atarofoods.com/vibrantcookbook or on all amazon stores and book depository stores worldwide.
What is your favourite food?
When it comes to food, I allow my feelings to guide me. I’m drawn to different foods depending on my moods and cravings. I never say no to delicious Nigerian Jollof rice served with fried dodo and Suya chicken.
What sort of obstacles have you come across whilst trying to realize your dream?
I have encountered several obstacles which I now appreciate. First, I built two lucrative restaurant and catering business in Nigeria employing over 56 people with the vision to build 10 more restaurants within West African countries in 5 years. That vision was suspended when I had to follow my husband to Netherlands as an Expat spouse on a job-related assignment. I started all over again in the Netherlands teaching Nigerian cooking to an international audience and accepting occasional catering. Again, trying to introduce my Nigerian spice blends in the major supermarkets in the Netherlands has been a challenge, since the owners of the supermarkets do not believe that any Dutch person will ask for West African Spices. I’m still working to prove them wrong. Dutch people and people from other nationalities are daily ordering my spices online but would prefer to find them on the supermarket shelves to avoid the unnecessary shipping cost. These are the biases, stereotypes and narratives we are working on changing at Ataro Foods.
Any African heroes/heroine?
I appreciate what Aliko Dangote has done for the Nigerian food industry sector. I also appreciate what Tony Elumelu is doing to empower African entrepreneurs.
Any chefs or cooks you look up to?
I do not look up to any cook in particular because I’m more into the industrial and enlightenment aspect of food and not just the cooking. However, I appreciate all the cooks and chefs working hard to introduce African cuisine to an international audience; People like Zoe Adjonyoh and Funke Keleosho and so many other West African food bloggers and chefs promoting the African cuisine around the world.
Can you recommend any African cookbooks?
The first African cookbook I ordered was Contemporary Nigerian Cuisine by Funke Keleosho. I can recommend it. I plan to order Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen cookbook as well.
Do you have a recipe we can share?
You can share my Chicken Suya recipe.