We Interview: Ozoz Sokoh (Kitchen Butterfly) - Food Chef & Blogger
I stumbled on Ozoz in a funny way. I was having a casual conversation with a friend and we were talking of Nigerian food. I might be biased, but I'm one of those people that believe Nigerian food should be absolutely global and the entire world has to love it. My friend then said "I'm sure you know Kitchen Butterfly". I responded that I'd never heard of her. And my response was met with a "How can you not? Everyone knows her!"
I searched her out on Instagram that moment and never looked back. When I interviewed Rayo, she also mentioned that we should interview Ozoz next! It's taken over 6 months, but here we are.
Ozoz, also known as Kitchen Butterfly strives to redefine our understanding of the taste of flavours of Nigerian food, including its history and the limitless potential it holds. While preserving traditional Nigerian dishes, she explores unusual terrains to create new recipes. Her recipes and creations (including the way they are described) will definitely change and broaden your approach to Nigerian food.
I speak to her about food, motherhood and life in general! Enjoy. xX
Your name is pretty uncommon and honestly sounds lyrical to me. What does it mean and what part of the country is the name from?
- My name is Ozoz, full name - Ozozoma. It means everyone should give birth to children. And I have 3 so there...I've lived up to my name! I'm from Igarra, in northern Edo state (Akoko-Edo, near Auchi) in the south of Nigeria. I love my name - I think it is exactly who I am - sometimes a creator, other times a passage for creation. I love it.
And how did you come about the name Kitchen Butterfly?
- Kitchen Butterfly was a pen and paper brainstorming exercise that began with 'Not a plastic spoon' and ended up with Kitchen Butterfly. I decided on it after visiting a butterfly garden - seeing the metamorphosis, falling in love with kaleidoscopes and imagining butterfly wings as having similar patterns and realising that I had evolved as an eater and a cook in very distinct, almost metamorphic ways and because I knew my heart was in the kitchen through and through.
Now to the first question Rayo said I should ask you. Why are you so awesome?
- Hey God o, I don't know what you mean *covers eyes*. I'm just myself - with the awareness that this is my life to live and I have to 'do' and 'be' me regardless of the prescriptions of society, culture and whatever else. I learnt late in life - my early 30s - that whatever you decide to do, you will have to bear the consequences. I also learnt that you'll always have a group rooting for/ against you for 20,000 reasons that aren't mine to investigate or let myself be stopped by.
You often say there's more to food than just eating. What else is there to it really?
- Many things that contribute to the essence of who we are - art, connection, heritage, worship.
- In 2009, when I lived in The Netherlands, I discovered there was a Brazilian dish - Acaraje, which the slaves 'brought' with them in the 19th century. It is an exalted form of Akara, food of the goddess, Iansa. It taught me how the slave trade caused cultural dispersion but also how it had shaped the narrative and cuisine of Bahia, Salvador. Understand this - the slaves were in bondage, kept and treated under horrific conditions and yet, in the midst of this, they created a dish that liberated their spirits and souls. They remembered, they never forgot and in the heart of that, they created beauty from pain, deliciousness from torture, they travelled home, by plate. And if that isn't the best illustration of food as more than eating, I don't know what is.
- When I visit a new place, make a new discovery about food, I reflect on where I've come from, what I've experienced and I play a 'matching' game - is this similar to anything I've had before? Why? How? And I find a connection. Often, the questioning leads me to research and I end up learning a lot. I learn about history and culture, science and geography, recipes and techniques and things that aren't always obvious from the plate. This is important to me. It's my way of understanding the world and who we are, about all the ways we are the same, and all the ways we differ.
How did you discover your love for cooking? and how do you come up with recipes?
- I discovered my love for cooking through my dad who was a force in the kitchen. Though my mum cooked and taught me a lot, my dad was the cook who loved food, gadgets and was fearless.
- My recipe development is often random, tangential even... I always think about flavour, colour and texture. I'll see an ingredient and it might remind me of a place, a time, a flavour I was hooked on and voila, something new. Or it might be in season produce which pushes me to create or something from TV - Masterchef Australia and the like.
You've coined the phrase #NewNigerianKitchen. 3 things that seeks to achieve?
- The New Nigerian Kitchen focuses on the entire spectrum of Nigerian cuisine. My desire is to look at the:
i. Past/ And celebrate old ingredients and the discovery of new uses, new approaches;
ii. Present/ And document everything I know and learn - visually, text, and other media - for future reference because what isn't recorded gets lost; and
iii. Future/ To shape the culinary future of Nigeria and Africa - changing the way we think, cook, eat and celebrate our cuisine.
I have no idea why, but some of your Instagram photos remind me of Marrakech - there's something so cultural about your table settings and plates you use. Is this intentional?
- Aaah, Marrakech - I haven't been but I love the aesthetic, the doors and tiles, the souks, the blues and the vibrant colours. I like to 'hero' my food - celebrate it. I also love serveware - plates, dishes and the like so...yeah.
If you had $10m to do something different relating to Nigerian food what would you do?
- Buy property for the Culinary Institute of Nigeria
- Offer free lessons to schools - work to change the curriculum
- Reprint a few Nigerian cookbooks which are out of print
3 Nigerian foods and/ or spice that are clearly underrated?
- Yaji - beyond suya, this peanutty spice blend works in both sweet and savoury preparations. It is great in desserts, and works well with vegetables too.
See her blog post on 6 Things to do with Yaji Other than Sprinkling on Suya!
- Zobo - hibiscus sabdiffra, makes a great drink which can form the basis of other equally awesome drinks. And the leftover flowers can be candied and made into various sauces.
- Calabash nutmeg - the preserve of pepper soup, it adds warmth to shortbread cookies and other bakes
What was on your Christmas menu this year?
- Because I was away from home, it was fried rice, pan roasted chicken, vegetables, zibo-apple-pecan relish and zoo pepper sauce. If I'd been home, it would have been Acha Jollof, and chicken legs stuffed with Acha Jollof. A zobo-apple-pecan relish, Roast chicken and Zobo to drink, lots and lots of it
You have a 9 -5, You're a Food Blogger, with kids. Is there such a thing as work-life balance and how do you do it?
- Balance is personal - and yes, I think it exists. For me, it's taking time off, for myself as much as for the children/ rest of my family.
- I don't joke with my me/ alone time because if I'm not full, how can I give, fountain?
- Sometimes, I take mom-alone holidays, some evenings - Fridays mostly - I don't cook so I ease myself into the weekend...and on and on
For their food only, you'll happily live in this country. Which?
- Nairobi. Specifically for passion fruit juice and the smell of coffee.
You appear to have a love for photography - particular yellow buses, Lagos sights and rainy days - and have created your Lagos post cards. What's the fascination?
- My camera is my other eye and I love to discover what it sees in addition to what I see. Yellow is such a sunny, optimistic colour for Lagos which I'm kind of new to - I moved here 2 years ago from Port Harcourt. I also love rain and many of the rainy days, I compensate myself with taking photos since I can't be home. In bed. Tartan blanket and all
We know you love your selfies and because of you, I almost always have my phone camera ready - hoping for an empty elevator. What's your one tip for the perfect selfie?
- Practice, Practice, Practice. Know your good side, hold camera overhead, try to do it one handed. I'm so not a selfie queen!
Your idea of a perfect weekend?
- Braless and in a boubou on the couch watching food shows that make me cry on TV on the saturday. On sunday, lie in. Cook...sleep.
You've managed to get your children - girls and boy to love cooking. Do you think it's a skill everyone should have? and how can parents get their kids into it?
- The thing that's worked is us eating together as a family - that has changed what and how my children eat.
- I'm very much a buffet person - lots of dishes on it table. It gives them choice and responsibility...
- Should we all learn to cook? I'd love to say yes but I believe that only those who want to, should.
- Seeing me excited about food too has piqued their interest. I also have them help me out in the kitchen.
2 pieces of advice on Motherhood!
- There's no manual - remember you childhood, let it be your guide for good
- There's no need for the guilt - learn from your children. Who and how they are when they go places and do things they love...
You've worked with some amazing brands, being interviewed on major platforms and recognised as a key player in Nigeria's food industry. What advice do you have for creatives who seek recognition for their work?
- Seek recognition for and by yourself first. All of the work I do - writing, photography, cooking - is first for me. I'm fulfilled by the mere act of doing it for myself, everything else comes later.
Do you ever feel social media envy or competition amongst others in your industry. How do you deal with that?
- I used to be a jealous/ envious person when I was younger. These days, very rarely do I feel social media envy - there is no invalidation or mutual exclusivity because someone else is succeeding with their own goal, because someone's hard work has wrought them opportunities.
- See, cooking is a thing of heart and it is hard work to create, to prepare and to present. I laud every and anyone who has the courage to venture thus. For me, food is a form of worship and I quite frankly am consumed with the beauty of the creation .
- Goals are deeply personal. Half of my goals, the questions I want answered, the things I desire don't even make sense to most people *laughs*
- On the rare occassion I do, I ask myself why. Why I feel that prick of envy and then I deal with it - by saying it, by acknowledging it and by thinking through it.
- We have such vastly different goals that it doesn't make sense to.
- When I was younger, I envied friends, other women who were prettier, who could wear heels, paint their nails without it chipping after 10 seconds and then I attended a conference. There were so many women, every slice of the spectrum. Then we got to talk and know each other and I was stunned to discover that every single woman in the room had so many similar fears
- The truth, my truth is I have desires - hopes, dreams, wishes and they will sometimes stall and when that happens, I'm honest with myself about how I feel.
You just turned 40. When you turn 50, what three things will you hope to have achieved?
- Cookbooks written
- Cookbooks written
- Cookbooks written
What sport can you play to save your life!
- Badminton. Always and forever
3 words to describe your fashion style
- Comfort, afrocentric, personal
- L'eau D'Issey by Issey Miyake since 1992. Always, forever and a day. I've tried many, many, many - my sisters and I collected perfumes when we were young but nothing compares with its clean, crisp, fresh and floral scent. I love.
Best book you've ever read!
- Charlotte's Web for its illustration of the beauty of friendship
How long have you had your natural hair, how has it changed you and one advice for someone thinking of switching to natural hair
- Three and a half years.
- It's made me more conscious of myself, what it means to be an individual, what it means to embrace and love that which you cannot change and come to think of it, that you don't want to change.
- Its widened my understanding and appreciation for individual styles because no where is the concept of individuality as potent and pwerful as the ownership and styling of that which grows out of your own head. Those who own it, stun and slay. Every single time.
Hardest life lesson you've had to learn
- I am flawed too
One life advice for younger girls!?
- You are worth it.
Read: Letter to my 20s, 30s, 40s: https://medium.com/@kitchnbutterfly
I'm sure I say this about all of my interviews but I absolutely enjoyed Ozoz responses! Something so authentic about it. I really hope you enjoyed it too!
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