Oya Come Chop… is what they say in Nigeria when it’s time to eat. Tokunbo Koiki wants everyone to have the chance to chop and enjoy mouthwatering Nigerian food. Tokunbo’s Kitchen is her way of giving people from all different cultures the chance to enjoy the delicious home cooked Nigerian food she grew up eating. Her ‘Food is ready, Oya come chop’ supper clubs give you the chance to enjoy an evening full of exciting food concepts, exhilarating music and cultural immersion. Ahead of the Tokunbo’s Kitchen 2nd birthday celebrations this weekend, she shares her thoughts on job security, running a business and of course Motherhood.
You have a first class degree in Psychology, and a Masters in Social work, but for the past 2 years you have been running your own food business. How did it feel to give up the security of your job as a Social Worker?
At the time when I left social work I felt a great sense of relief as I had been feeling emotionally drained and demoralised for quite a while. I had moved back in with my mom with my daughter, which gave me some reprieve to be able to take some time to figure out my next move. But there have been several moments during the last two years in which I have considered going back to the security of having regular income!
But I am motivated again when I remember that this is the happiest and most content I have been for a very long time.
You’ve been running your businesses for the past 2 years. What have been the highs and lows?
Biggest high was operating Tokunbo’s Kitchen at two festivals, the Walthamstow Garden Party and Africa Utopia both in London simultaneously over the summer. This was especially poignant for me as my attendance at the Garden party in July 2015 was the final push that led me to starting a street food business. Africa Utopia was the first festival I traded at in September 2015 and this was our third time trading there so I felt like I had come full circle. We were also running an in-house residency at the same time at Green Rooms Hotel in North London. It was a very busy and hectic period with very little sleep had!
There have been so many lows but one that still sometimes gets to me is the loss of friendships in the process. Many times, the loneliness of not having daily work interactions can be overwhelming but I have tried to buffer that by building a tribe of other like-minded entrepreneurs at different stages of their own businesses.
Before you left Social Work what was a typical day like for you?
Waking up early to ensure I had showered and gotten myself ready before waking my daughter up. Getting her ready and dressed to be dropped off at school and then driving to work. My last full time role had me working in different primary care surgeries in a borough in East London so no 2 days were ever the same!
As a Mother running a business what are your daily challenges? How do you manage the needs of your daughter and keep the business running?
Trying to navigate the guilt that sometimes comes with being unable to do some things with her due to the financial insecurities that come with running a start-up.
I am very open and frank with my daughter by involving her in every aspect of the business including discussing profit and loss so she can understand why things are somethings not how they used to be.
I rely very much on my support network of family and friends to help me navigate the turbulent times and ensure that the daily grind keeps rolling!
How does being a Mother feel, be all the way real? How does being a single mother feel… Is there a difference for you?
Like a rollercoaster, in which sometimes you are screaming to get off but you know that there’s no exit and you are in the ride until the end! Being a single mother makes the journey that bit bumpier as I constantly have to remind my daughter that we are in this together. It comes with having to make difficult choices that have led to her becoming more independent at the age of 10 than some of her peers and cousins. But she is, for the most part, a very sensible child so it has been great to see her flourishing in spite of some of the challenges we have weathered. She recently told me she might want to have her own restaurant which she will name ‘In My Mother’s Footstep’ so knowing that I am a source of inspiration to her makes it even more worthwhile.
I believe very much in maintaining my identity and who I am outside of being a mother, so I try to ensure that my needs sometimes take precedence but overall it is a continuous balance.
What are your thoughts on the representation of black mothers online?
Hmmm where do I start! I think black mothers are often presented in a negative way especially black single mothers who society would have all believe are the reason for all the ills of this world! However there are some shows and press who are now working actively to change this narrative. I especially love the character ‘Beth’ in the American show ‘This Is Us’ as well as ‘Aunt Vi’ in ‘Queen Sugar’ as I feel they both have a great rapport with their children. Or nieces and nephews and their children in Aunt Vi’s case.
How, if at all do you think your Nigerian heritage has affected your style of parenting?
I am very much an ‘African mama’ in many ways and the greatest pleasure I take from this motherhood journey is telling my daughter the classic African retort ‘on my head’ when she asks what I perceive to be an obviously silly question! I have tried to take the best of Nigerian culture and base my style of parenting on the experiences I had growing up. But I definitely know my exposure to British and Western culture along with my academic and professional background have more influence on my liberal style of parenting. I often tell my daughter she’s lucky to have a mother such as me who will most likely be the one advocating for her to break bad in her early adulthood!
What is your “go to” dish? Would you like to share the recipe?
Fried rice. I find it to be such an easy and effortless dish that is simply underrated on the African cuisine scene.
Tokunbo’s Steamed Fried Rice
2 chicken knor cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoon curry powder
2 sprigs fresh thyme (substitute 1 teaspoon ground thyme)
4 tablespoons coconut oil (substitute vegetable oil)
1 small red onion, chopped
3 cups mixed vegetables (fresh or frozen as preferred)
2 cups rice (I use basmati but works also with parboiled rice)
500g king prawns (can substitute with chicken or beef)
Place a large size pot on medium heat. Add curry powder and white pepper to pan and fry for about 30 seconds to release their flavours. Then add the oil and onions, stir-fry until the onion is fragrant and translucent. Add the king prawns. Cover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil.
Add the mixed vegetables, rice and chicken broth to the mixture. Stir well to combine. Taste and adjust for seasonings as needed.
Cover the pot and allow to simmer for about 7 minutes. Open the lid and cover the pot with foil paper and return the lid. Leave on low heat for about five minutes or until the water is completely steamed.
Take off the stove, open the lid and use fork to fluff your rice. Leave for 2 minutes. Your rice is now ready to serve. Enjoy with some fried plantain and grilled chicken or meat.
Other than Nigerian food what is your favourite cuisine?
I love Thai food for its simplicity and flavours. I also discovered a great appreciation for Senegalese food during a holiday to Dakar last year.
What does the future hold for Tokunbo’s Kitchen? Do you see permanent premises on the horizon?
I would love to take Tokunbo’s Kitchen across England and the U.K. as well as internationally. I would love to create a space that goes beyond being your usual typical restaurant. Somewhere one can discover or get better acquainted with the culinary delight that is Nigerian food whilst also getting a cultural immersion and access to African food and drink products.
What advice would you give to other Mothers hoping to quit the day job to pursue their passion?
Be prepared to grow the resilience to keep going on the days when your bank account literally has just a few pounds in it and you have no idea when the next opportunity is coming from! Find a mentor or someone who has been there and is happy to share their experience with you. Involve your children in the process from the start and explain to them the choices you are making so they know why a holiday to Dubai may suddenly not be likely (again) for quite some time!
What do you wish you had known about Motherhood before becoming a Mother yourself?
That people expect that your life would suddenly revolve around your child (ren) and you are expected to become this selfless person who is invincible and without the ability to make mistakes!
**Quick Fire Questions**
Jollof Rice or Plantain?
London or Lagos?
Festival or Pop Up Market?
Dancing or Fine Dining?
Dancing all day long!
Heels or Flats?
Flats (just because I am a ‘go-hard’ dancer)
Sum up Motherhood in 4 words
Life lessons keep coming!