I’m so excited to share with you what was my highlight of last week. First, let me tell you how it all came about. So a few weeks ago at my university, the founder of Love Chin Chin spoke to a few students and I about breaking into the food industry. He mentioned working with outlets that aren’t as big as hotels or popular restaurants and highlighted how Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (ZGK) uses his chin chin as a crust for their banoffee pie. Now if you know me, you’ll know how my eyes lit up when he mentioned that. Using traditional West African food to create or enhance western food really warms my heart. For that reason ZGK I’ve been planning to visit ever since. Finally, I did.
How cute is this Kente print on their business cards.
I can’t stand oily food so it was nice to bite into the puff puff and actually taste the doughy goodness. The banoffee pie was more delicious than I could have imagined. The cream was extra fluffy and rich (yes, I know it wasn’t dairy free) and the base was thick and crumbled right in my mouth as I gobbled it down. The glorious chin chin base tasted like a cross between an almond thin biscuit and Scottish shortbread, much better than using digestive biscuits.
Why did you you start ZGK?
“Why not? It’s not really about why but more about how. So there’s a festival in Hackney Wick, once a year called Hackney Wicked. It’s all open studio, where people come and visit stalls and look at people’s artwork. At the time, there wasn’t really much food being offered there, there was one cafe. So, I thought you know what, I’m a bit skint I’m going to make a pot of hkatankwan and fry some plantain and I’ll make a little poster signed Zoe’s Famous Peanut Butter Stew. People came, people came and people came. The festival lasted for three days and we sold out every day for those three days and it created a real community around the food. People kept telling me to do it again, so the following year I turned my flat into a restaurant, we made tables and chairs, I called it Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen and we sold out again every day for three or four days. I collected some email addresses and it grew from there. “
Why should people come to ZGK?
“We’re just trying to spread the good news about Ghanaian food, you know. Most people, outside of the community haven’t experienced these flavours or ingredients. That’s what we’re about really, spreading the love of Ghanaian food and the food is good, so why not? I’m taking the best ingredients and dishes and showing people what that is.”
What would you say is the best thing on ZGK’s menu?
“I would say the best thing on this menu is going to be my favourite, hkatankwan [peanut sauce] , so anything with that on it is always the best thing for me. It’s usually what we sell out of first. Here, we’ve got griddled lamb cutlets with Zoe’s peanut butter sauce. “
Is there anything else you would put on the menu ?
“This menu will grow a little bit. I want to do fufu, I want to do waakye. Basically, what I’m going to have to do is have either daily or weekly specials. I always like to have traditional meals plus staples that’s really accessible and easy for everybody. I want to get banku in there, I want to get tilapia. So overtime the menu will get better and the special will always be something that’s quite a traditional dish. “
What’s the plan for ZGK in the next few months/years?
“In the next few years, I’ll be opening a second restaurant. Actually, a third. Another three restaurants, I think in the next five years. Hopefully, one of them will be in Berlin. I want one in Berlin because I have a fan base there, I’ve been going out there for a number of years, people keep asking when am I coming back. I know that if I had a small restaurant in Berlin, it would do well. I wouldn’t just do it for the sake of “oh gosh, there’s a restaurant”. It has to be the right time and in the right space. Obviously, I want my business to grow, but not just my business, I want other african food businesses to grow and I want to see more of that on the high street. But I don’t want to be a KFC. I want to offer a personal, intimate experience. It’s important people understand the ethos of what I’m doing.
Also, Nigel Slater has a show on the BBC, I’m in that series on episode 6. That’ll be out in June 2015. I’m talking with some publishers at moment about a cookbook because there’s interest. “
If someone wanted to start their own restaurant, how would you recommend they go about it?
I recommend they test their concept thoroughly. Setting up a restaurant in normal circumstances is very expensive business and its well know that 67% of restaurants fail in the first 6 months. You can expect not to make a profit in the first 2 or 3 years, so you have to have a lot of money behind you. It’s the set up cost thats so huge. That’s why this [PopBrixton] is so attractive for me, it actually is a big chunk of change for a normal person but its not even near the chunk of change if I wanted to get an A3 unit on the high street. Just make sure you know you have a customer base, get loyalty behind you so that you know people are going to come when you open. Be prepared to work very hard.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen is located at the PopBrixton campus, in Brixton.
Do you have a favourite Ghanaian dish? Let me know what it is in the comments!