What is The Groundnut and why did you start it?
The Groundnut is a project run by the three of us, Folayemi Brown, Duval Timothy and Jacob Fodio Todd. We host dinners, where we serve East and West African dishes, and in July we published a cookbook that shares those recipes and the stories that brought them to life.
One of the main reasons why we started the project was simply to bring people together. Cooking food is a great way to share a moment with friends and family, and the Groundnut dinners are really just an extension of those occasions. We like to think that our dinners and Groundnut Cookbook are generating more discussion around the foods of sub-saharan Africa, too.
African Food – did you see a gap in the market for it? Why do you think it doesn’t have a bigger presence in the high-street?
Yes, we did notice that a lot of people hadn’t been exposed to the food we know and love, especially during our university days. We would host friends for dinner who would say it was the first time that they had tried this or that, and we channelled some of their curiosity when we decided to pursue the Groundnut project.
From the very start, the Groundnut has served as a platform for us to explore our own collective heritage, but beyond that we’ve been able to share part of the history of Africa through food.
Given the variety and quality of African food, it is a hard to say exactly why it isn’t more popular. In London there are areas that are prominent for national cuisines, like Caledonian Road for its Ethiopian restaurants, or the Old Kent Road for Nigerian food further down south. That said there a few factors that probably contribute to a strong local following not converting to high street fame.
Firstly, the ambition has to be there. We’re not sure that many restaurants have truly attempted to become chain stores because they seem content to serve a loyal community who like the food and service as it is. That also feeds into the style of the food, which has a very familial home-cooked feel to it. It certainly hasn’t been adapted in the way that other cuisines have to aid their commercial success, up to now at least.
How do you ensure that your operations have a low environmental impact?
We generate very little food waste and our tableware and napkins are reusable. We often use scrap wood in innovative ways. Duval made a bespoke kitchen surface for our latest run of dinners out of material that was destined to be thrown away, for example. We are also trialling London Bio Packaging’s enzyme-based eco-cleaning range, Zeco.
Food waste is a huge global problem. How does the groundnut manage this issue?
Our model, by which we pre-sell all our tickets, means that we know exactly how many people are coming so that we can buy produce and prepare the food accordingly, which limits the amount of food waste we produce. We are proud about generating very little waste, and any extra is frozen for our friends and family to enjoy on a rainy day!
You just launched a cookbook. How has it been received and who should buy it?
It’s been really well received so far and hopefully a lot more people get to know about after the Christmas presents are handed out! The book is essentially a history of The Groundnut project, and in it you’ll find a book structured in chronological menus, in the order we served them in real life.
At the start of each menu/chapter there’s a bit of narrative that details what we were up to at that given time, while on the recipe pages themselves you’ll get a bit more dialogue about what inspired the dish, or a bit of wisdom about a certain ingredient. There are a range of dishes for all kitchen skill sets, from one-pot recipes to entire menus. It has over 100 recipes!
You have an interesting circular economy story about orange peel and cork? Please tell us more.
On the invitation of the Tate Modern, we built a long colourful custom-made table down the gallery’s Turbine Hall. We filled it with two thousand oranges, and invited visitors to participate in a traditional West African method of eating the fruit, where it acts as the cup and the drink. Visitors peeled, cored and drank from the oranges, and they were gone within three hours.
We were left with an incredible amount of peel, but fortunately Peel Partners found a use for it – they take orange peel and transform it into a cork like material. So what would normally be classed as waste has been transformed into super products! We recreated the project for EatThis festival in Amsterdam, which was a lot of fun.
Your 2015 Groundnut season is in full swing. Where can people find out about your pop up events?
What are your plans for the future?
Well, firstly we’ve still a few weeks left of our dinners. Our cookbook is being published next summer in the US, and before that we’ll be planning and plotting between trips to Accra and Freetown. We want to try something new and interesting together.