Illustration by Ayo Arogunmati
Mr. Wey, in your TEDTalk you mentioned that being a restauranteur, writer and a chef is no different – How so?
In my TED Talk, I don’t think I articulated my points very well. I knew what I wanted to communicate but I was all over the place. What I wanted to get across is that these different areas that I engage in are not very different. To me, these three areas that I work in are just expressed differently in that I try to achieve an end with what I do. I think our society tends to put things we do in silos that can’t crossover into other areas. It makes it easier for us to understand but ultimately, I am trying to solve a problem and I use these different methods to achieve.
What does your mom think of your cooking?
Oh wow…(laughs). That is the most complicated question I’ve ever had to answer. She is supportive but she is still Nigerian. I travel to different cities to do these dinners and one time she asked me what I would be making for the guests. I told her Amala and Gbegiri. She screamed and was just confused as to why I would choose this path for my life. She definitely doesn’t think this is what I should be doing with my life.
Do you have any limitations with your imagination?
No, I don’t. my biggest resource is my imagination but the limitation is my capacity to accomplish all these things I have in my head. I would say financial hurdles are also a limit with what I can accomplish with my cooking.
The restaurant in Detroit called Revolver, how did you come up with that concept? How do you set a level of expectations for different chefs?
Revolver was a cool run for me. It is no longer in my control but it was started with a partner who was a former roommate of mine. We basically came up with the idea over lunch. He was thinking about opening up a restaurant and I was also on the same wavelength, so we decided to partner up. Each weekend we had a different chef, who were referred by other patrons who had already tried their food.
Was it successful?
I made enough money to be comfortable, pay my bills and build relationships from the work we were doing. If we are speaking of how well it did financially, then it definitely wasn’t a success but I am happy I took that chance and I got tremendous fulfilment and gratitude from doing it.
New Orleans still has a deep connection to African heritage, was this taken into consideration in launching the new restaurant concept “Lagos”?
The only thing I knew about New Orleans was Mardi Gras and the parties in the French Quarters. Coming and living here has opened my eyes to the African American history and its contributions to arts and culinary traditions. Lagos is still at the concept stage but the people that have tried the food have been generally supportive. Right now, there is only one African restaurant that is a Gambian restaurant. We have received some recognition given that we are providing another authentic African cuisine option to people in the city.
How do you plan on challenging the traditional ways Nigerian food is consumed?
My anxiety is to ensure I make it as Nigerian as possible. I don’t want to change how it is consumed or conform to any particular identity or visual palette. I don’t go in trying to make the food visually pleasing and have people complain about the quality of the taste. Don’t get me wrong, I am still conscious about how the food looks but I am not trying to appease a certain audience.