Food means a lot of things to people around the world, to some—they just want to eat healthy, while to others, it is a culture of some sort. Most people love to eat good and tasteful food, but are not alacritous to go through the process of preparing one, in most cases, they do not know how to go about cooking one, and this explains the rise of fast-food restaurants and eateries in many parts of our cities. The African people have various delicacies which are intrinsically astonishing, these foods are rich and the process of preparing them can be so cumbersome. The exquisiteness of Nigeria foods is well captured in Ms Nma Okpara’s career, a food blogger and self-taught chef. Nma joins a few individuals in the continent, promoting African/Nigerian food, like Yemisi Aribisala’s whose literary works has done a lot in this regard, especially in her Long Throat Memoir. When a typical African leave his/her continent for Europe or America (in search of greener pasture or academics), one thing s/he misses, if you ask them, is the local dishes they enjoyed at home. In an interview with Ms Nma, Roluseye asked a lot of question, from her background, to her verdict on whose Jollof rice is better between Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana. Her response were stimulating and fully loaded.
Below are the conversations that ensued;
Roluseye: Kindly tell us about yourself, especially growing up?
Nma: My name is Nma. The last of 7 children. I was born and raised in Delta state, Nigeria. I grew up watching my mother go to cookery/catering school. I was never really interested in all that cooking jazz. I wanted to be a doctor that never had to cook. But I was 16 and I didn’t understand that cooking wasn’t just about me feeding my family literally. I started cooking for my dad at age 14. He was diagnosed with heart disease and he changed his eating habits. At some point, he started making me cook his meals. He ate oil free okra with dried fish every day. Now my favourite food to cook is Okra. So far I have fallen in love with the art of cookery and dining Africa delicacies, is one of my favourite things to do.
Roluseye: Could you share with us your educational background?
Nma: I went to NNPC primary school; after which I attended Word of Faith Group of Schools for my secondary education. It is a Christian private school owned by Church of God Mission which is managed by the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa’s family. I started college with Premed/Biological sciences through Calhoun College in the United States and currently, still at it.
Roluseye: Wow, from your love for biology to cooking; why the move and what will you say is the correlation?
Nma: One of my favourite classes still remains Biology. Cooking didn’t come naturally for me. I knew the basics, but it wasn’t my thing. I fell into depression and cooked my way out of it. In the process of cooking my way out of depression, my brand was born and instead of being a neurologist like I wanted, I decided to channel my efforts into food science. With my love for the elderly, I made a decision to focus on geriatrics. I guess finding myself was part of this food thing in my life.
Roluseye: Tell us about the brand-name, The Nigerian Lazy Chef, what are your services?
Nma: Nigerian Lazy Chef came as a figurative ‘inspiration’, which stuck, literally, I’m not lazy, but it just entombed with me as a great brand name as I started finding my path as a chef. The name further emphasises my like for easy way around the kitchen. I am a food writer, blogger, caterer, personal chef and teacher.
Roluseye: The food we put inside, really go a long way to determine who we are, would you say that inspired you into being a chef?
Nma: There wasn’t really an inspiration when I first started off. My mom is a retired Chef, but at the time she made me cook with her, I saw it as “suffering” lol (teenage stuff). I cooked my way out of depression. Now looking at my foundation, my mother being my foundation has been my inspiration. Then fast forward to today, I love Marcus Samuelsson. His growth and dedication is everything. However, my children really inspire me to do better and make better choices.
Roluseye: Tell us about your favourite dish from each of the major tribes in Nigeria (Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba), how do we cook one?
Nma: I love Suya, Nsala soup, and Ayamase and the recipes to make them are all in my blog.
Roluseye: Kindly share with us your experience working as an entrepreneurial chef, what has been your major challenge(s), especially while operating in Nigeria.
Nma: I operate in the USA and my major challenge is getting people to understand that I run a business.
Roluseye: In an industry where African dishes doesn’t seem to be dominant in literatures, how do you manage to explain to your clients what you cook?
Nma: It’s not easy, but as a passion I take my time to talk about Nigerian food. Funny thing is, once my clients understand how our foods are prepared, it’s uphill from there 🙂
Roluseye: Being a chef can be somewhat difficult and more demanding, even though you love to cook, how do you manage to balance your social life, career and home; what extra spice do you had to your day?
Nma: Although some areas tend to suffer, I do my best to give my time evenly to all the parts of my life. I take breaks to reset my mind. My extra spice is black coffee (laughs).
Roluseye: I would not be pleased with myself if I don’t ask this question, but, between Senegal/Ghana and Nigerian Jollof rice, which will you say is the best?
Nma: Of a truth, the origin of Jollof should be credited to the Senegalese, the Wolof tribe, but Nigerians perfected it. Yes we did…The best Jollof rice is Nigerian Jollof. The process of making Nigerian Jollof is a labour of love. You do not take that labour for granted. The frying of the tomatoes, the warm meat stock, and the precision is just amazing. “Naija Jollof rice na the only correct Jollof.”
Roluseye: How would you describe Europeans/Americans perception on African meals…? Do you service clients, who are not Africans/Nigerians?
Nma: They find African food interesting. They like the mix of spices and herbs we use and they are fascinated at how we cook our meat three times…you steam with spices, fry or grill; then cook with your stew. I service some Americans and they seem to love Jollof rice, Egusi soup and Okra.
Roluseye: Aside from being a chef, what other interests do you have?
Nma: I love photography, I love giving back especially children who have none. I’m passionate about the elderly and women’s health.
Roluseye: To get your services, how do we contact you (any mail or website). And do you operate outside the US?
Nma: I operate around the globe (smiles).
Thank you so much for the time and tips, we really had an interesting chat.