London’s Afro-European food collective prepare to go global
When you look on a menu and find moin-moin alongside sukuma wiki and sweet pepper frozen yogurt, you know you’re in for a treat. And it’s thanks to South London foodies Duval Timothy, Folayemi ‘Yemi’ Brown and Jacob Fodio Todd who are drawing on their varied African roots to start a taste revolution.
The Groundnut began life in 2012 as a supper club, and quickly earned a popular following. Grazia dubbed them ‘the hottest new foodie collective in town’; Tate Modern invited them to make West African-style orange juice cups at its One City One Day festival; and customers flocked to mingle on The Groundnut’s communal dining tables and eat, well, they weren’t exactly sure what – the menu is revealed on the night. So when we ask The Groundnut for a sneak preview of what’s coming in their latest London supper-club season, due to kick off this November, they’re characteristically mysterious. “You’ll find out when you come for dinner!” says Brown.
You can, though, get a good idea of what to expect in The Groundnut Cookbook, published earlier this year. The colourful pages are packed with more than 100 recipes of classic African dishes and experimental nibbles from the past supper clubs. “The book is essentially a history of The Groundnut project until now,” says Brown. “At the start of each menu – or chapter – you find a bit of narrative that details what we were up to at that given time. And on the recipe pages themselves, you get a bit more dialogue about what inspired the dish, or wisdom about a certain ingredient.”
Making the book was something of a journey in itself. They started off using traditional food photography in hired studios but quickly realised it wasn’t for them. “We decided to photograph in our own homes, spaces where we had done dinners, and in our local markets. We also tracked down archival photos of family and friends,” says Timothy. The result is a book as richly textured as The Groundnut’s own dishes.
For many second-generation Africans and Afro-Europeans, identity and home is bound up with food – it crosses geographical, cultural, time and linguistic boundaries. So it’s no surprise that The Groundnut’s menus reflect the collective’s mixed backgrounds. Timothy’s mum is English and dad Sierra Leonean/Ghanaian; Todd has heritage in England and South Sudan but spent part of his childhood in Mozambique, Swaziland and Tanzania; while Brown’s parents were born and raised in Nigeria. “I grew up eating all the classics like jollof rice, okro soup and eba, moin-moin,” he says. “It definitely feeds into the culinary identity of The Groundnut.”
"I grew up eating all the classics like jollof rice, okro soup and eba,
moin-moin. It definitely feeds into the culinary identity of The Groundnut"
“All dishes have dense histories so food is really about people as a wider community rather than individuals,” adds Timothy. “And people are proud to see dishes from their countries,” chips in Brown. “Whether they are from Ghana, Ethiopia or Nigeria, they respect the way we choose to present them. For the most part, we seek to make foods that we are familiar with from first-hand experience, so we feel well qualified to make one or two adjustments if we think that they’re necessary.”
The trio met through school and university and each came to The Groundnut from very different paths. Brown was studying at Goldsmiths University and dreaming of being a footballer; Timothy was pursuing a passion for art while moonlighting at Whitechapel Gallery Cafe and celeb go-to catering company Arnold & Henderson; and was working for African research organisation the Rift Valley Institute in London and Nairobi. And all roads led to… south London. “I guess we were inspired by the lack of great things to do around our area,” says Brown. “First and foremost we planned an event that we would all love to attend.”
The book is just the beginning. After a successful two-night pop-up Paris in 2013, the trio are off next to Amsterdam to share their wisdom at food sustainability event EAT THIS! And there’s more in the pipeline. “We’re plotting and planning,” hints Brown. “We want to try something new and interesting together.” And they’re still managing to squeeze in their own projects. Brown has started a music project called MogaDisco, Timothy’s still making art and Todd’s getting to grips with family life after the birth of his baby girl. Just as well there are three of them to share the load. Too many chefs spoil the broth? Not when it’s groundnut soup.
Words Carinya Sharples
Photography Sophie Davidson