This column is an ode to food.
We all think about it—some, like myself, more than others. We all require it—yes, even the most admired fashionistas. Yet, there’s still so much to learn about it—so much left to appreciate, particularly on this vast African continent. Many of us hardly know about the rich cuisines our neighbours in other parts of the country regularly enjoy, let alone the delicacies from different parts of Africa.
Thankfully, THISDAY Style is eager to pull back the invisible curtain set to subconsciously divide us and usher you into a season of learning. I, for one, am thrilled to see a dedicated food column nestled between these coveted pages. After all, just as with fashion, there’s so much about food that comes down to style and… taste.
I look forward to embarking on this culinary journey with you as the new food columnist for ThisDay Style.
My name is Eka Obaigbena, and I not only “talk the talk” when it comes to food; I live it. Quite literally, actually. I am the founder and CEO of two Nigerian-born food businesses: Toasties, a fast-casual dining restaurant chain that aims to reimagine the way Africans experience meals on the go, and Board, a food gifting and food experience company.
So yes, I quite literally am immersed in thoughts of food on a daily basis.
While I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it all clicked for me, I do recall deciding to move from food enthusiast and observer to connoisseur at some point during my university years. In 2011, not long after graduating from Penn State University with a degree in journalism, I enrolled in New York City’s French Culinary Institute (now The International Culinary Center). I had learnt that Bobby Flay, my favourite chef at the time, had been a member of the school’s first graduating class back in 1984 and was convinced I had to attend. Upon graduation, I had the privilege of working at Michelin-starred restaurants in New York and Madrid, as well as several casual dining restaurants, and a stint at a catering company in London for Hollywood films.
Over the years, I learned about the art of fine and casual dining, the production that is mass catering, and the general pressures behind the scenes of the food industry. These experiences allowed me to hone my skills and develop a deep appreciation for the art of gastronomy. I also launched my food blog, Biscuitboneblog, where, armed with the tagline “Playing with African food,” I would share my culinary experiments, fusing traditional West African recipes with cuisines from around the world. Inspired by a Heston Blumenthal cooking show, I created my signature “shaki toastie,” a medley of West African spices, tender tripe, bufala mozzarella, and fresh basil. This unique creation quickly propelled me into the sandwich business, where my first food endeavour, Toasties, came to life. Today, Toasties has five outlets across Lagos and plans for further expansion.
Yet, with the wealth of experience I started with, I could not have predicted what goes into managing food businesses in Nigeria.
Which brings me to the why.
When I started business, access to information about where and how to begin was pretty non-existent. I hardly knew people in the restaurant industry in Nigeria, which meant that many lessons came through trial and error. Expensive trial and error. Fast forward to today, and access to substantive information about the functionality of the food industry is still lacking. Too many of us are uninformed about the challenges and opportunities that exist on this continent.
Through this column, I aim to take you on an adventure, exploring the rich and diverse flavours of our vibrant nation and continent. Nigeria, in itself, is a melting pot of cultures, each with its own unique culinary traditions, delicacies, and beliefs. Together, we will celebrate the innovation that blends traditional and modern techniques, creating a unique culinary identity for the continent.
In addition to showcasing traditional recipes from neighbouring communities, I will also delve into the business behind African food. From our arable farmlands, ripe with manufacturing and processing opportunities, to the technological advances currently being employed by our most innovative minds, I will bring you stories of the people behind the food—the farmers, the street food vendors, the home cooks, and the culinary entrepreneurs who shape our food culture.
Food is not just about taste; it is an experience that engages all our senses. Learn from industry experts about how they harness the sights, sounds, aromas, and textures that exist, from the fields of the farm to the experience on your plate.
Follow along as we look beyond the reviews and recipes and focus on building a community of knowledgeable food enthusiasts who can learn from each other, exchange ideas, and celebrate our shared love for food. I encourage you to share your favourite recipes, food memories, and culinary adventures with me. Let’s create a space where we can all explore the culinary delights that make our nation truly special.
If you have any food-related questions you would like me to answer or stories you would like shared in this column, please send them to email@example.com.
– Eka Obaigbena