World renowned, publishers, Penguin have reportedly paid a six-digit advance sum for the global publishing rights of an African recipe book written by a Nigerian-British and two friends from south London.
Folayemi Brown, Duval Timothy and Jacob Fodio Todd have started working on theGroundnut Cookbook, a new collection of recipes, according to a report in The Guradian.
Before they started, they went round bookshops to assess the competition. “We went to a fair few and couldn’t find anything,” recalls 26-year-old Folayemi who co-runs an African music project called MogaDisco on the side. “In one shop – which I won’t name – there was an African subsection in the cookery section and there wasn’t a single book on the shelf.”
The size of a continent of more than a billion people, 54 countries and over a thousand languages don’t appear to have fazed the Groundnut boys.
Folayemi’s parents are from Nigeria; Duval, his best friend since primary school, has family from Sierra Leone; Jacob, meanwhile, spent large parts of his childhood in Mozambique, Swaziland and Tanzania. They can’t claim to offer a definitive guide to African food, but they can share their experience of the sub-Saharan countries they know – which, with so little information out there, will be a start and potentially much more.
The Groundnut began in January 2012 as a bi-monthly supper club in south London. It was originally the idea of Duval, a 25-year-old artist and designer, but he had little trouble convincing Folayemi and Jacob, a friend of Duval’s brother at Goldsmiths, University of London.
When they sat down to create their first menu, the centrepiece of the feast was settled quickly: groundnut stew, a West African dish made with peanut butter, chicken and Scotch bonnet pepper. Duval’s grandma made a killer version, while Jacob had been obsessed with those flavours since he’d eaten a similar dish called caril de amendoim in Mozambique as a child. Only Folayemi wasn’t sure, but then he’s allergic to peanuts.
The first Groundnut was mostly friends and family; it was a success in every sense except financially. They slipped into some patterns that have stuck ever since: all three would cook, but on the evening Folayemi would mostly look after front of house, while Jacob and Duval – who have both cooked in the Franco-British café Rose Bakery – would ensure the food came out efficiently. Many of the dishes would be traditional, even old family recipes, but they would be balanced by lighter, fresher sides, maybe a mango kohlrabi salad or orange juice drunk – as they do in West Africa – from fruit that is ingeniously both the drink and the cup.
“The ceremony of eating is very important in African food,” explains Duval. “So we wanted everyone eating at a long table, at the same time, sharing the same food. And one of the aspects is tactility: eating with your hands is done across all of Africa.” Folayemi laughs, “That might be a step too far for some people, but we felt confident that one person would be a catalyst and then the whole table would do it. And it went down well. No one said, ‘Can I have some cutlery?’”
After three years of supper clubs, the Groundnut Cookbook brings their food to a wider audience; home cooks who have never quite known what to do with a plantain or a yam – or couldn’t even pick them out of a line-up.
“We do feel that African food is some of the best food on the planet,” says the 30-year-old Jacob, who has left his job as a research and development practitioner for the Rift Valley Institute [a non-profit that works in east and central Africa] to work full-time on the Groundnut. “The flavours and tastes are so brilliant that you think, ‘Everyone’s got to be excited about this!’ That’s what gives us a lot of confidence.”
This confidence is shared by the publishers Penguin, which paid a six-figure advance, it’s said, for global rights to the Groundnut Cookbook. If this is a gamble, it is not a reckless one: Duval, Jacob and Folayemi are smart, handsome and charismatic; it’s easy to see them on television or opening their own restaurant, should they desire. Moreover, they have created a fun, vibrant cookbook that also evokes a powerful sense of their collective memories and diverse upbringings. But most of all, the time just feels right for African food, a cuisine too long ignored or dismissed.
“When we were making it, we always had this idea that it was not just a cookbook,” says Duval. “It should be an important book for people because it’s a new reference point to a whole continent of food.”