The chef-founder of pan-African Edinburgh restaurant Farin Road tells about popularising his cuisine with a Scottish slant
Tell me about Farin Road and your journey so far
Farin Road started with me looking for good quality African food in Edinburgh. The quality and quantity of food the continent has to offer is very diverse – from the north of Africa to South Africa it's very different. It has been hard to find a place where I can get a taste of what Africa has to offer.
There have been a few African restaurants in Edinburgh but they only lasted one or two years before they closed. When I looked into it, it was mainly due to the fact that most of the ingredients we use are very niche and quite expensive. The restaurants struggled with margins and packed up shop. So the idea of fusion was to find a midway between using traditional ingredients and using what I can source in Edinburgh that is similar to African food but in a way I can interpret myself.
I started doing supper clubs, which became very popular, and this year I was given the opportunity to have a permanent café called Tani Modi to hold dinners on Friday and Saturday.
What are your goals with the restaurant?
For now, I just want to show people African food, and what the possibilities are. The only reason why certain dishes are not popular is because they're not presented to people in the right way. If I can do that then maybe the next time they go to a traditional African restaurant, they'll want to try more. It brings people closer to Africa. That's what my goal is.
So I'll put a plantain on the counter to show them what they are eating, or tell them about cassava. It's very important as chefs to do much better in terms of promoting this cuisine. The reason why African food tends to be more expensive than your traditional Chinese or Indian is because people don't know about it as much and ingredients are imported from Africa rather than readily available.
What kind of dishes do you have on the menu and how do you come up with them?
I do a goat haggis. In West Africa, goat is one of the most popular meats, and traditional haggis is made using lamb offal, so I took a spin on it with goat and flavoured it using a Nigerian five spice, which gives it a different flavour.
Every now and then I see a chef on TV making jollof rice and I just think wow, this is amazing for promoting African food
One of the most popular and intriguing items on the menu is the jerk chicken, which is served with chakalaka. The whole concept of this dish is injected from the Caribbean, where it is traditionally served with rice and peas. It's about taking that concept and breaking it down. The chakalaka is a bean dish from South Africa, and the rice is cooked and dried and made into puffed rice. Taking the Caribbean dish and integrating ideas from French cooking and South African food makes something totally different.
How have you found people's perception of African food?
I think it is changing. Jollof rice has made African food a bit more popular in recent years, and every now and then I see a chef on TV making jollof rice and I just think wow, this is amazing for promoting African food.
But then the food from different parts of Africa is so diverse that if I chose to do just one kind I wouldn't feel comfortable calling it African – it would be West African or Ghanaian, for example. There are so many different dishes to choose from and I like having the freedom to have a menu that can change. I've probably replaced about maybe five dishes already, not because the dishes are not selling but because I want to try something new. It's got to be a rotating menu, with one dish changing every two or three weeks to showcase more of the continent.
What are your plans for the future?
I started delivery a couple of months ago, but one thing I realised is the kind of food I want to do on the delivery menu has to be constant. So I have put the delivery on hold at the moment until I can have somebody who can take over that side of things.
I do have plans to do a set menu and even a tasting menu, but at the moment it's about finding what people like when they have a choice.