This exhibition was everything I love about food. The sculptor and curator describe it as ‘Sculpture meets food meets travel meets history’.
So when, in December of 2015, ‘the solo exhibition WOLOF/JOLLOF by the Nigerian-born sculptor Folakunle Oshun, curated by Inês Valle opened, I was there and ecstatic.
This exhibition which explores the popularity and migratory controversy of this culinary dish consists of a huge outdoor art installation of 70 unique three legged cooking pots mounted on wheels;… Folakunle Oshun and Inês Valle will be traveling through West African coast, tracing the route and the recipes’ variations that this dish entails by investigating the multilayer socio-local stories of this migrant dish. A journey that will take them to Benin, Togo, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Gambia, and finally Senegal where the original Thiebou Denn recipe is made by the Wolof tribe; Folakunle Oshun.
It shared several stories and tastes of one of the most beloved Nigerian dishes, ‘Jollof Rice’. On display at the National Museum, Onikan – Lagos, the huge outdoor art-installation, featured cooking pots on wheels, some of which were used to cook Jollof recipes from across West African nations; the United Nations of Jollof and more.
Though I have replicated ‘Party rice’ – the version of Jollof that evokes the toil and earnest preparation over firewood of sub-Saharan Africa’s most beloved Jollof Rice on the stove top – one of my dreams was to cook a pot, like my mother did, over an open fire. And as dreams come true, ladies and gentlemen, this was accomplished but it was no easy feat I might add and in the end, the rice wasn’t of the perfect consistency but…I learnt a lot.
So yes, in addition to the exhibition, a cook-off was organized. To be honest, it was more a friendly get together of cooks and eaters. I was to cook Thieboudienne, the mother, the lodestone, the apparent beginning of all Jollofs. Thieboudienne combines herb-seasoned fish and vegetables with ‘broken’ rice stewed in the familiar tomato sauce and cooked with hibiscus leaves (yakwa, Hausa).
Before I cooked, I honestly didn’t expect much of the results. The only thing that excited me was the testing of the Senegalese version which sparked off this great institution. I was not wowed by the ingredients list becuase I’m not a parsley lover as such – give me cilantro any day of the week and I’m your girl.
Boy was I wrong. Oh. My. Word, the fish and vegetables were everything. The seasoning of parsley and garlic paste created the most flavoursome dish – this is a must repeat for me at one of the feasts/ dinner parties I organize this year.
I learnt so much:
One. It is easy to start a fire. Any fire, especially with wood from packing palettes.
Two. Smoke will come at you. There’s no escaping this. No matter where you stand, smoke will come at you.
Three. It is easy to tame a fire if you know how, and if you don’t, find your ‘Miss Anna’. Miss Anna, my friend’s home assistant came with us to the cook-off and taught me soooooooooooo much. That if the heat was too much, to remove a piece of wood. That to put out the fire burning on the fire wood, one must turn it over and over in the ground, dust till it extinguished itself. That some people are adept, eyes open and all at cooking with firewood.
Four. You may be a good cook but don’t let that fool you into thinking you cannot make mistakes. And mistakes I made. My rice to sauce ratio was so high, my rice never softened the way I wanted.
Five. Actually, swap with four and say par boil your rice before cooking Jollof, especially if using long-grain rice.
Six. Some people will love you, regardless of how spectacularly you fail. My children and friends came back for seconds. Sigh. Love. Is. Everything.
Seven. And still, you move, we move, we progress, we decide what we need to do for Take 2 and we regroup. Because if we actively review our mistakes, both to sober up but also to learn from them, then nothing is wasted. Regardless of how the mind wants us to hurry through, reflection is key.
Eight. Thieboudienne is KING. You might think the combination of rice, sweet potatoes, carrots and aubergines is a bit too much but you have no idea, and will have no idea till you try it.
Nine. Jollof is sufficient to unite us, across staelines and stomachs, across destinies and histories. We should let it.
And finally, Ten. The real heroes are those who cook so effortlessly with firewood. Thank you Miss Anna, thank you every roadside selling puff-puff person, Akara person, yam person
And thank you
- Folakunle and Ines, for a great exhibition.
- Joel and Mide, for the gorgeous photographs
- Fam, Friends and everyone who turned up to eat and feast and learn.
Much love xxx