This week’s CODE Careers Q&A is with Zoe Adjonyoh, owner of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen. Zoe chats to CODE about how she realised later on in life she wanted to be a chef, her first pop-up in Hackney and how Anne McBride was been influential in her career.
I’m not sure I realised ‘it’ – being a chef wasn’t in my lexicon as a kid and certainly not something I aspired to growing up. It was a path ‘other people’ took and didn’t seem like something that was available to me then. I studied and trained in law for my first degree then had a very colourful CV for ten years whilst living in Brighton. I was in my early thirties when I hosted my first supper club and even then it was because of a passion for cooking and the fun of hosting … and the supper clubs and events continued through my MA. I hadn’t set in stone that cooking would take me anywhere. The universe dictated this career path for me – I was running away from Zoe’s Ghana kitchen when I realised I couldn’t run. Towards the end of my MA at Goldsmiths I went to live in Berlin, where I also cooked and hosted supper clubs. It was so I had an income to live off but my focus was on writing then – the universe just wouldn’t let me escape cooking and after 6 months of shuttling back to London for catering gigs every week, I had clarity on where my path was leading, then I decided to shape it and I’ve been on that path ever since.
Hackney Wicked Arts studio 2010 was the first ‘pop-up’. I decided to drag my two ring Baby Belling table top stove outside my flat and cooked up a huge pot of peanut butter stew and fried plantain. The response was so fantastic that I decided to do it again, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A little manic sometimes, varied and constantly striving for improvement.
Anne McBride came to my place in Brixton a few years ago – she invited me to cook at the worlds of flavour conference at the culinary institute of America. That experience of cooking alongside some of the worlds most talented chefs and being given that platform was a game changer for me in terms of my ambition for my style of cooking. It really inspired me and it also led to more work in the States, and an introduction to JJ Johnson, who recommended me for an award for being a ‘culinary iconoclast’. This led to me cooking at James Beard’s house in New York alongside some of America’s best cooking talent – so I have a lot to thank Anne (and JJ) for.
I’m going out to the States for a few months to explore more creative opportunities and collaborations, and I’m also in the early stages of planning a new cookbook, which I’m really excited about.
I sat with Roberto of Guerilla Kitchen in Brighton last week drinking Italian organic red wine and eating his charcuterie – the most amazing Culatello, Guanciale imported from Romagna and his 5 day sour dough breads and pizzas – that was pretty great.
I’m always late to the party as I’m usually in the kitchen 5/7 nights a week – I’m very keen to get down to Akoko when I next have a night off.
The obvious answer is New York but I’ve got my eye on Baltimore and Charleston also – both food communities are embracing the relationship between West Africa and Southern States of American cuisines, and there are some exciting chefs of colour there such as BJ Dennis in Charleston.
It’s very reassuring to see a host of new talent emerging in the African food movement and scene – in the UK I’m a huge fan of Maria Bradford and in the USA Kess Kravings – both of whom I’d love to work alongside or collaborate with.
This interview was first included in the weekly careers Bulletin. To subscribe please click here