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There’s No Stopping Simileoluwa Adebajo, the Chef/Owner Behind Eko Kitchen

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By Sophie Brochu
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When her commissary kitchen burned down in July, Simileoluwa Adebajo purchased a one-way ticket to Lagos, Nigeria. But it was the feeling of joy Adejabo derives from cooking that convinced her to stay. It’s the same joy that made Adebajo leave a stable job in finance to open a restaurant in 2019. Today, Adebajo is hanging onto her dreams and spreading her love of Nigerian cooking with old recipes and new. We spoke to Adebajo about the past, present, and future of Eko Kitchen.

Tock:  You utilize recipes passed down from your mother and grandmothers. Can you tell us about their presence in your life and in your cooking?

Adebajo: My mother and my two grandmothers were very present in my life growing up. I spent many weekend afternoons in the kitchen watching them labor over delicious meals for the entire family. Food was the common thread that brought us all together and it was always great to sit around the table with everyone talking about our lives over a delicious homemade meal. My paternal grandmother significantly influenced my love for food because we spent many Sunday afternoons during my college years cooking together in my village in Nigeria.

Tock: It must have been difficult to walk away from a job in finance to open a restaurant. When did you know it was time to follow your dreams?

Adebajo: It was definitely a struggle to walk away from a stable source of income to something so uncertain but I think the deciding factor for me was the fact that I derived more joy and fulfillment from being in the kitchen and sharing Nigeria through the food with people than I did from my day job.

Photo by @yasirsaike/Instagram.

Tock: Eko is San Francisco’s very first Nigerian restaurant. Do you feel a certain pressure to represent Nigeria and its cuisine?

Adebajo: I do feel a certain pressure to be authentic to Nigerian traditional cuisine being the first Nigerian restaurant here. At the same time, I am Nigerian American and a lot of my own personal recipes combine the food and flavors I experienced here with ingredients and dishes from my childhood in Nigeria. Going forward I’m going to be very bold about doing more Nigerian fusion cuisine.

“I am Nigerian American and a lot of my own personal recipes combine the food and flavors I experienced here with ingredients and dishes from my childhood in Nigeria.”

 

Tock: Can you tell us a bit more about Nigerian fusion? What sort of dishes?

Adebajo: An example of a Nigerian fusion dish I have done in the past is a Chicken Suya Taco. Grilled chicken marinated in the ancient Nigerian suya spice and layered in a tortilla with our Nigerian roasted pepper salsa and fresh tomatoes onions and cilantro.

Tock: On top of the pandemic, your kitchen burned down in July. Where do you find the motivation to keep going?

Adebajo: When my commissary burned down in July that was an all-time low for me personally and professionally. I was only able to keep going because I felt that the work I was doing was important. At the time I was working with a non-profit called SF New Deal to provide meals for the homeless, the elderly, and people with Covid-19. The fact that these people would go hungry if I didn’t continue my work kept me going, to be honest. Very few people know this but I had purchased a one-way ticket to Lagos, Nigeria after the fire incident and it was the feeling of joy I derived from my work that made me stay.

Photo by @ekokitchensf/Instagram.

Tock: You have a Black History Month special going on throughout February. Can you tell us about this?

Adebajo: The Black History Month special that I have for the month of February for me is a way to allow people to experience authentic African food but in a simpler way. The tray has all of the restaurant’s best-selling dishes so you can try it all and decide what you love and what you’re not so crazy about. Nigeria is the most populous black nation in the world and one out of every seven black people on the globe is of Nigerian descent so I think it’s important for the world to try Nigerian food and understand Nigerian culture and our people. This is my way of contributing to that cause.

“It’s important for the world to try Nigerian food and understand Nigerian culture and our people.”

 

Tock: What would you like people to know about the state of the industry?

Adebajo: I’m just happy to still be open after the year that the restaurant industry saw. So many independent restaurants in the US closed due to financial hardship in 2020. It is important for communities to continue to support the restaurants that are still open because we are the cultural lifeline of cities. I implore anyone reading this to visit a restaurant in your neighborhood today to order takeout, delivery, or catering. Support us however you can because we all need your help.

Order from Eko Kitchen

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