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Dundu Debuts Its Food Tasting Event Series As It Prepares to Open Shop In New York City

Mofoluwaso Salami is a wife and a mother of one, who quit a career in law to pursue her passion for food. The recent

Mofoluwaso Salami is a wife and a mother of one, who quit a career in law to pursue her passion for food. The recent graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, took a step further in her new venture by starting a food tasting series of event that would eventually lead to the opening of her restaurant in New York. Applause Africa’s co-founder was invitation to the premier of these series. Here are excerpts of my one-on-one with Foluso.

We have just experienced the first of the series of tastings for your new business venture – Dundu Restaurant. Tell us about it.

Welcome to ”Eko meets New York”, the first in a series of food tasting events to promote the soon to be open Dundu: an African Restaurant that will offer consistently authentic and tasty African food prepared fresh daily with high quality ingredients. The Dundu Restaurant will be opened in New York City in the summer of 2014. The tastings are about bringing people together to eat good food, reminisce about growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, and to shed some light on the restaurant, while having a great time.

Give us a little background on yourself and why you chose to go into the restaurant business? Why leave your fairly successful career as a lawyer to become a restaurateur?

I have always loved good food in all forms and this love has taken me on quite a journey, it has also made me try almost anything called edible! However, I must state clearly that African food has been and will always be my first food love. I grew up on it, I think it the best out there, and the world should experience it. Of course, there are good restaurants already offering African cuisine in different (form and format) to the New Yorkers, but Dundu Restaurant is going to be different and special.

I worked as an attorney in the Oil and Gas industry, but I have always wanted to start or own a business. The entrepreneurial itch has been there – in college I retailed a few things, but nothing major. So on December 2009, I decided to merge my passion for food with my business craving, I quit by job and started attending the Culinary Institute of America, New York two weeks later.

Take us through the presentation that we partook of today; I believe we had three impressive segments.

In today’s “Eko meets New York” tasting we had three segments. The first segment was tagged “For the love of plantains”, where we served plantains in various exciting dishes. We had Asun (spicy chopped goat meat) in sweet plantain boats; ipkekere (fried sweet plantain chips); dodo (fried sweet plantain) and seared gizzard in a sweet and spicy mix, served in lettuce cups. We also had the boli ati epka (roasted sweet plantain and peanuts) served in the cones. The inspiration for this is how anyone who grow up in Lagos would remember how the hawkers who sell this popular snack wrapped up in old newspapers. We also served watermelon lemonade which was made with fresh lemons and watermelon – a tropical fruit.

The next presentation was tagged “Rustic Tiwa n Tiwa”. Tiwa n Tiwa in Yoruba translates to –what is ours belongs to us. In this segment we presented iyan (pounded yam) rolled up and served with efo riro (a stir-fry of spinach) mixed with tripe, goat meat, fish, periwinkle, etc. We also had our jollof rice and our (special recipe) peppered chicken, served with coleslaw and fried sweet plantain. They were served with a mocktail of homemade coconut milk and pineapple juice –both topical fruits.

The final segment was my favorite segment, tagged “Sweets on the Streets”. The idea here was to celebrate confectioneries that we couldn’t get enough of as kids growing up in Lagos. Here we had the cakes – fluffy vanilla and marble cakes we had at parties, and buns – bringing back memories of the hawkers on the street of Lagos. Even though the buns were fried, they weren’t oily. We had chin-chin (deep fried crunchy dough-croquettes), but we chose to bake instead to make them healthier. We also served ice cream with various delightful toppings.

You studied at the Culinary Institute of America to learn how to be a chef of African cuisine. Do you believe that there is a science in preparing an African meal?

I think the most important thing about the African cuisine is the food, but beyond the food, the spices, the textures, the aromas, the diversity in preparation methods and the vast variety of food the continent offers is in its self a miracle. African food is as diverse as its people but the most important thing is not what differentiates us, it is what binds us together, it is the understanding that African cuisine is so much more than just the food, it’s about the memories, the laughter, the process of preparation, the unwritten family recipes passed down for generations; the joys of sharing, it doesn’t matter if it’s jollof rice at an owambe party or the ever so good injera bread at a family meal time, this knowledge is an essential part of who we are; this is the true soul of African cuisine.

I also noticed that a lot of detail went into the presentation of the food today. What was the concept behind that?

I believe that the taste and quality of food is just as important as the way it looks, because we eat first with our eyes. Eating is beyond putting some fuel in your body, it’s an experience that ought to be enjoyed. If I tossed you plate of rice, even if it tastes good, you would not get the gratification from the meal compared the one that was served to you with care. Making good food equals making someone’s day better.

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You already offer catering services, tells us about your plans to actually open a restaurant, and where in New York should your fans to be looking forward to having a taste Dudun?

Yes, we currently cater parties; we offer various services depending on the client’s needs. We do specifically African cuisine, but the menu, format and atmosphere is always different based on what the client wants. As per the restaurant, Dundu is going to be a fast casual restaurant located in the center of New York City. We would be offering appealingly presented African meals prepared with high quality ingredients and with consistent pleasant tastes. A casual experience in nice atmosphere. Nothing too formal and the food would be exquisite. I have not invented anything new but merely expressed myself by rethinking some all-time favorites.

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What is the target market for Dundu Restaurant?

Firstly we would like to cater to people like you, – first, second and third generation of Africans in the Diaspora. Secondly, we are looking to target the African international students here in New York – offering them a taste of home away from home. New York has one of the largest number of African students in the United States. Finally, we want to get everyone that has any interest in the African cuisine.

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Tell us more about the upcoming series before the launch of Dundu Restaurant.

As you know, tonight was the first of the series, and we would be having the next one very soon, we are looking to collaborate with individuals or organizations who would host these series and join us in creating excitement and generating the right kind of buzz for Dundu Restaurant. The tastings will be similar, but no two tastings will be the same. We are excited that Applause Africa has offered to host a Dundu Restaurant tasting as well.

As a New Yorker, I know people here are very conscious of their calorie in-take, and as an African I know our food is very high in calories. How to you plan to keep regulars. Also, as someone who knows the science of food, would you be posting the calories of your meals in your menu?

Firstly, I believe African food is healthy enough for daily consumption as with every other cuisine, food needs to be consumed in moderation. The use of diverse food preparation methods is  one of the many ways Dùndú is offering healthier options without compromising on authenticity and taste, a good example is our baked chinchin that would otherwise have been deep-fried. Displaying the calorie count is something we would love to explore once we have the basics up and running. However, Dùndú will not be offering a lot of high calorie meals.

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