8 Things to Love About Jamie Oliver's Jollof Rice

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Jollof rice by F. Muyambo

If there is one thing to know about our beloved #jollof this past week, it would probably have something to do with all the palaver surrounding the #jollofgate scandal. People, we are talking about Jamie’s world cup inspired jollof rice recipe.

No, this has nothing to do with politics… although, should Jamie Oliver one day aspire to be yet another pioneer in terms of being a minority head of state in some sub Saharan African country, the celebrity chef seems to have accomplished true fame in the covetable Naija “popularosphere” that he could well be offered citizenship one day. So, the idea of Jamie’s presidency may be a little far fetched but on the basis that some heads of states know no difference between football and politics, oh goodluck #jollofgate, anyone can do it. And, no! Africans most certainly do not believe in second class citizens.

Political satire aside, thanks to the significant reaction to Jamie Oliver’s jollof attempt, he is now known across almost every single West African household, both mainland and abroad. My reaction was not to immediately dismiss Jamie’s efforts. After all, in the brutal world of internet searches and SEO rankings, one cannot complain that perhaps this may be a boost in the profiles of the real African cuisine experts out there who have been plodding away tirelessly for the love of food and the spread of cultural relevance of all things African. And so, I have analysed Jamie’s jollof and I could only come up with reasons to love his approach.

1. He has not “stolen” someone else’s recipe

The fact that so many have reacted and found his version of jollof strange, is testament to this fact. A couple of years back, I was completely horrified and dismayed when I discovered that a woman in America had completely plagiarised my seswaa recipe and posted it on a prominent food website. This meant that internet searches for seswaa highly ranked her results and she continues to get credit for my work. Whilst we can all agree that I am not the person who discovered seswaa, the promotion of African cuisine is still in its infancy and there are still many lesser known dishes that only Africans would know about.

2. It is original

Any credible African cuisine expert and food writer will know about the importance, not just of authenticity but of originality of a recipe. The fact that Jamie put his own twist into his jollof recipe should not be a cause for concern. It simply means that no one else out there has the exact same thing. For the record, I was able to prove that the stolen seswaa recipe was mine because I had added my own personal twists to it and had made it in a way that was not typical. It did however look exactly like seswaa in the end result. And so there is a secret in maintaining originality. It is not necessarily about the ingredients list, but in how you put it together.

3. It is a celebration of West African culture

The fact that Jamie Oliver has published an African recipe should be seen as a testament to all the African cuisine experts out there who have been working tirelessly to promote their culture through food.

4. Bridging the gap for African women

Before the feminists jump onto me viciously about the emancipation of women from the kitchen, the truth is that the true custodians of the secrets to African food have been women. Family recipes have been passed down for generations from mother to daughter and increasingly from mothers to their sons. There is good news for those who have wanted to take things a step further into publishing and got ignored or shot down in the past with the caveat that “there is no market for African recipe books”. There most certainly is in Africa and now, it appears Jamie may be opening doors to the masses in the West, thus creating a wider audience for all of us. We hope.

5. It IS jollof rice… with roast chicken

When you remove the bells and whistles from the published piece on Jamie’s site, you will find that the basis for his recipe is in fact a very authentic jollof rice dish. Step into the second paragraph of Jamie’s instructions and you will see the assembly of an authentic and basic jollof rice recipe. Essentially you will use onions, garlic and chilli. You will almost always use tomato puree. Jamie has added fresh chopped tomatoes which is something my mother would score him highly for as her preference is always to go fresh as opposed to using canned tomatoes (as I do because my middle name is “shortcut”). And of course some chicken stock. It is not to be confused with Maggi cube, that is just a popular brand of the same thing. My only criticism of the basic jollof would be that he has used a combination of over 1 kilos of tomatoes for 500 grams of rice. But we shouldn’t really mind that.

6. Presentation is EVERYTHING!

Make no mistake about presentation when serving food because one thing I have always drummed on about in African cuisine is that we “try” to make our mark out there yet don’t take it home in terms of presentation. The fact of the matter is that a picture is worth a thousand words. The photo of Jamie’s jollof presents a dish which you expect would taste quite delectable. Again I have deconstructed what is on the plate. He has dished the jollof after mixing in some yummy juices from the roasted chicken and vine tomatoes. He has placed a drumstick and chicken pieces on top and added the lemon wedge which brings out the freshness of any tomato based dish. Any critically acclaimed chef would use this trick to enhance natural flavour. A lot of us would serve our jollof with some sort of salad, additional gravy and dress up our plates the way we like. Jamie has done no differently.

7. African cuisine in the spotlight

Due to the fact that Jamie did jollof, African cuisine has taken centre stage and we are all riding that wave and sharing in the spotlight.

8. African voices are relevant

To all those who have worked tirelessly to put the microphone back into the hands of Africans, this whole story is proof that our voices are relevant. West Africa’s jollof outcry even made the news in the midst of Ebola!

Other than these reasons, the fact of the matter is that this has created an opportunity for African food writers and popular culture bloggers alike to raise their profiles. In addition to this, Jamie has actually listened to West Africa’s reaction and has invited us to share the links to our own versions of jollof onto his site. Will you step up to the plate and share yours?

Africa, keep talking, keep writing, keep sharing. The microphone is yours.

I do have one question for Jamie though. Where did he first taste jollof?

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