The Importance of Ozoz aka Kitchen Butterfly

I couldn’t tell you when I first stumbled across Ozoz’s Kitchen Butterfly handle on social media but I believe it was sometime back in 2014. A full year plus before I would even start my whole journey curating experiences for people to enjoy Nigerian cuisine in all it’s glorious forms through Tokunbo’s Kitchen.

I do recall that I stalked her Instagram page religiously, often leaving many begging comments over almost every food picture she posted. I remember that we bonded over our shared love of accessories which resulted in us making a date to visit a local arts and crafts market on my next trip to Lagos. This date was a result of me shamelessly inviting myself to her table for the chance to be reacquainted with Banga soup. You see I had only discovered this soup, undoubtedly, in my very humble opinion, one of the very best Nigerian soups I have ever tasted, a few months earlier on a trip to Port Harcourt. Ozoz though from Bendel State is Half Edo and Half Delta, grew up in Warri and Port Hartcourt. Her blog post Banga Soup: Love in a Claypot is one of the most delicious piece of writing I have ever encountered. That post alone assured me Ozoz was the one that would deepen my new found love of Banga.

My (re)discovery of Nigerian cuisine as something that was more than just a chore and food to be eaten started with reading Yemisi Aribisala’s essays in the now defunct Nigerian newspaper, 234Next, during my attempt to return home to Nigeria between 2010 and 2012. Those essays gave me the beginnings of a history lesson about the ingredients used in food that I had taken for granted all my life.

Ozoz’s Kitchen Butterfly blog, took those lessons to another level and elevated my desire to educate myself, and others, about the value of our food, outside a western gaze.

In fact, I would be doing her a huge disservice if I did not state the importance of Ozoz and her blog in my decision to start Tokunbo’s Kitchen back in July 2015. You see, prior to taking action on a seed of an idea that had been planted in my head for a couple of years, I had spent many of my days reading her blog and digesting the information she shared in a very obsessive manner. I simply loved her exploration of using Nigerian ingredients and cooking techniques in new and interesting ways.

The #NewNigerianKitchen term, she coined to give meaning to her exploration was something that I found hugely fascinating. But even more so, her blog helped me to learn the importance of what it means to follow your passion and how our connection to culture, identity and who we are is very much rooted in our early experiences of food. Ozoz started her food blog whilst living in the Netherlands as a way of maintaining her roots and connection to her country of birth. This resonated so much with me as a first generation British-Nigerian, who though born in London had spent my formative early years in Nigeria. Even after my return to London as a young child, my taste buds were already so alive from the flavours of Nigerian cooking that I struggled to adapt to British cuisine. Pounded yam and ilasepo (okro stew) still remains my all time favourite meal, well now maybe with egusi soup but pounded yam rules, all day, every day and twice on Sundays ;-)

Shortly after taking action on bringing my vision of introducing the delicious Nigerian street food I grew up eating and constantly crave during my time away from home (Nigeria) to reality, I reached out to Ozoz’s for some help and advice. She, very generously, sent me a list of food and snack ideas including links to her own recipes from the blog that I could use to launch my business venture at the Africa Utopia festival later that year. This singular action means I am forever indebted to Ozoz’s in ways that she cannot even begin to comprehend *inserts twenty yellow heart emojis*

Fast forward to December 2015 and a long awaited four days trip to Lagos for a cousin’s wedding. Yet the highlight of that short sojourn was truly the time spent with Ozoz, cooking together, enjoying food, the oh so glorious food, along with the conversations bonding strangers to friends. That experience was reaffirming for me on the value of sisterhood and having the support of women who are unapologetic in chasing their dreams and passion even when it doesn’t seem to align with the truth of who they are supposed to be by the standards of society, culture and tradition.

Ozoz is a mentor who gives so much of herself freely and selflessly. 26th on her ‘Bucket' list, states

Write down my personal mission statement, follow it, and revise it from time to time — Done, 7th October 2010: ‘Exploring, learning and sharing stories that encourage & inspire’.

Well Ozoz, I am here to tell you that you do just that. The ways you seek to explore and go beyond what is the norm and ‘traditional’ inspires myself and so many others. The stories you share about your learning provides encouragement for myself and many more. This blog post has been on my mind to write for a very long time but seeing you listed as a finalist for the Saveur Best Culture Blog 2018 just gave me the final push I needed to tell you just how important you are and have been to me. Your blog is more than just a place for sharing stories and recipes, it’s a legacy that will inform the world about

Nigerian cuisine — because you deserve to know about the best, most awesome culinary treasure trove of all the world.

And for that, you are already a winner in my eyes.Thank you for always giving so freely so much of yourself and your world.