Following on from Emeka's blog post on his most memorable moments of our first year, Ifeyinwa shares her top three memories.
Our Very First Pop-Up
It was 13:00 and our first guest walked through the door. Our first, eager, chop-chat-chiller had ordered everything in the menu, including our yamas bravas, our Nigerian spin on patatas bravas. There was just one problem: where was the yam?
Both Emeka and I were sure we’d packed it but it was nowhere to be seen. Fridge? Nothing. Freezer? Nothing. Hidden amongst our belongings? Nothing. I could see Emeka getting increasingly tense and whilst I was panicking inside, I needed to bring calm to the situation and definitely didn’t want our guest to know anything was wrong. So I continued to smile, reassured Emeka everything would be fine, brought the guest his drinks before returning to my determined search for the yam. At the time I’d never worked in hospitality before, I now know that this is all anyone does: smile their way through their chaos whilst working to ensure the guest’s experience is never disturbed.
But despite my outward optimism the yam was still missing. We hadn’t even served our first guest and we’d failed already! I was starting to feel defeated. Not knowing what to do, I went to look for my mum who was just about to head home. I quickly told her what had happened when – lightbulb moment – she remembered seeing something underneath the car seat. We rushed to the car and there it was. The yam. The day was saved!
EMEKA - Well, sort of. We’d also forgotten to add the seasoning to our moi moi, which we didn't even realise until speaking with our guests after the event. Then there were the lost orders and, being understaffed, delays for the food. It was chaos! But despite all the hiccups, we loved it and our guests did too. Whilst the first pop-up was far from perfect they could see the vision and they believed in it. For us, that made the day a success. And as we closed our doors and turned to the pile of washing up, we had already decided to do it again.
Chop Chat Chilling with the Stars
Since launching Chuku’s we’ve always had on the walls of our lounge the Chuku’s Hall of Fame celebrating Nigerians born or based in Britain killing it in their field. From JME and Skepta to Ade Hassan of Nubian Skin, it’s an eclectic list of individuals whose achievements inspire us and whose accomplishments we want to share with all those who visit us. It’s also a list of individuals whom we hope to one-day welcome into our lounge.
But as it so happened, we didn’t have to wait very long for our first illustrious guest to walk through our doors. During our summer residency, Team GB champion, Christine Ohuruogu came to chop, chat, chill with us. With the majority of our marketing for our residency focused on social media posts, it was a totally unexpected visit!
But I don’t think it was until the Rio Olympics took place, that I really took it all in. The night of the women’s 400m relay final, I was up preparing for our birthday pop-up and as Ohuruogu came on to the screen, it dawned on me that just a couple of months before she’d been sat in our lounge chopping our jollof quinoa and plantain.
To have had the opportunity to host an individual who has adorned the walls of our lounge since launch, for me is one of the highs of my Chuku’s journey.
EMEKA - what made it all the more special was that she was actually surprised to be on our wall. It was a very humbling moment to see someone we consider to be so great be so honoured by something we created.
Emeka and I set up Chuku’s to bring Nigerian cuisine to the UK and whilst we continue to play and experiment with Nigerian flavours and combine our traditional foods with the tapas serving style we have always concerned ourselves with the authenticity of what we were doing. And despite not having any feedback for us to doubt what we were doing, we were yet to pass the ultimate litmus test - an aunty arriving directly from Nigeria, just weeks before our birthday pop-up.
As our aunty began to settle in at our house, so did my nerves. Curious about what we were now up to, in the way aunties are, it wasn’t long until the topic of Chuku’s came up. We explained the concept and she had a flick through the new Chop-Chat-Chillers Guide. She seemed to be positively engaging with it and even gave me and Emeka a brief Igbo language lesson but the day of reckoning was still to come.
About halfway through our birthday pop-up, our aunty arrived to chop, chat, chill. It wasn’t until the end of the evening when I asked her what she had thought that I realised how nervous I was to hear her opinion. Why did it matter? Because the lounge exists to share Nigerian culture. So as happy as I am that our concept has been so well-received by London foodies, it is important to me that it’s something that Nigerians in the diaspora and those based back home can be proud of.
EMEKA - So what was our aunty’s opinion? She loved it – the food, the music and the whole experience and she was proud of what we were doing. Our aunty is a chop-chat-chiller!