You are, what you eat! And food is a significant part of the identity of a culture and where a person could be from. The flavours paint a picture, the ingredients inform you of a deep history, and the preparation is a connection to a way of life.
I met up with the family man, Joe Faulkner, who welcomed me into his Krio kitchen for a chat about Sierra-Leonean Krio culture, the importance of family and how his culture shaped him into the person he stands today.
“I have a British surname, so during my school years people would assume I was from the Caribbean – I never argued when people said it because it wasn’t cool to be African.” – Joe
We both laughed and shared memories about what it was like before 2005-2006 where being African was something you went out your way to hide. “Now it is probably the first thing you will state! Seeing my younger relatives embrace their culture, and having a strong sense of identity is powerful.”
“I am a British born Sierra Leonean of Krio and Limba decent; we are like the Africans of Africa! Due to the movement of people during the abolishment of slavery, our language derives from various cultures and tribes from across Africa and the Caribbean.” Sierra Leonean history and specifically in relation to Freetown represents a melting pot of diverse cultures. Just like how the Krio language was formed, so too is Sierra Leonean food.
Food is what brought Joe the founder of The Krio Kanteen and me together and here is how our conversation went.
Kofi: What inspired the name of your business?
Joe: I grew up in a Sierra-Leonean household, and the biggest influence on my upbringing was that of the Krio people. I became interested in the story of the Krio’s when I was at university, and after reading a book called ‘The Krio of Sierra Leone’ by Akintola Wyse, I decided that I would try to represent my heritage doing something I enjoyed.
The name ‘The Krio Kanteen’ seemed like the perfect fit at the time, and I’m still happy with the decision.
Kofi: Who is behind this glorious food?
Joe: My father is the main chef, so I guess you can call me the sous-chef. You could say that my dad is Batman and I’m his Robin when it comes to the cooking.
Kofi: What’s it like being a father and son duo, how has it been perceived?
Joe: I think my dad and I make a good team. My father knows all of the traditional techniques and ingredients, and I bring a modern perspective to the dishes and the business ideas. I honestly don’t know how people perceive us as a duo but what I do know is that they most definitely enjoy our food.
Kofi: Even though we see popular chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey on mainstream TV – in most West African cultures preparing food is usually associated with womanhood. Do you believe that to be true, what are your thoughts?
I agree with you, for most West Africans cooking is seen as something a woman does. For me, however, cooking was something I saw both of my parents do, so I never had that stigma attached to it. I guess it also helped that my dad made some of the best food I ever tasted, so thinking about the gender of the chef was irrelevant.
Kofi: Congratulations with your new family member. How have you been able to juggle family and business life? How has it affected you?
Joe: Thanks. Trying to juggle a business, family life and a new job is difficult. I’m lucky that I’ve had a lot of support, so that has helped me through some of the most difficult periods. Regarding changes, having a newborn changes everything. She has become our most important priority, and everything I do is for her.
Kofi: What distinguishes Salone food from other West African cuisines?
Joe: It is the different cultural influences that make Sierra Leonean food. We have the elements of indigenous Sierra Leonean tribes, mixed with influences brought by repatriated slaves coming from the Caribbean, the Americas as well as other West African countries. This mixture of different influences, ingredients and techniques has giving Sierra Leonean food its unique flavour.
Kofi: Has being British and Sierra Leonean shaped your identity and the way you prepare your food?
Joe: Growing up in England as someone with an African background can create a confusing identity. But having an understanding of where you come from gives you pride and belief in who you are. That same pride and belief that represents itself in my day-to-day life is reflected in the food that we make. I also see myself as a proud Londoner, who feels lucky to have the opportunity to interact with and experience other cultures, especially when it comes to food.
Kofi: What’s your favourite meal to eat and cook? What do you love most about cooking food?
Joe: My favourite meal is one of my dads’ specialities, Fufu and Okra soup, and it is by far and away my favourite dish.
To be honest with you, I like cooking because I like to eat. I also like to see people enjoy themselves and serving up some tasty food which makes people jubilant.
Kofi: Sometimes turning an idea to reality can be quite challenging, what has the journey been like for you leading up to your first supper club?
Joe: The journey to my first supper club has been hard. I have learnt a lot along the way. I have had a pop-up event, catered for online orders and catered for various events. These experiences were enjoyable but also gave us the know-how and belief to set up our first supper club.
I’ve learnt that if I believe in something, I will persevere regardless of opinions or bumps on the road along the way.
Kofi: What’s your opinion on the current position of African cuisine in the British food market?
Joe: The present position of African cuisine in the British market is a strong one. We have a young and vibrant scene filled with passionate cooks. I honestly believe that in 10 years, African food will be amongst some the most popular food in the UK.
Kofi: What kind of impact does The Krio Kanteen hope to make in the food industry?
Joe: I would like The Krio Kanteen to become well-known and one of the best-established food outlet giving people an authentic taste of Sierra Leone.
Kofi: For people who have not tried Salone food before, what can they expect at your first supper club?
Joe: For those who have never tasted Salone food before, you can expect dishes filled with flavour and spice. A lot of care goes into what we do, so we are sure you will not be disappointed.
The first Krio Kanteen Supper Club is on Saturday 11th February 2017 at the Canvas Café (in brick lane, London). The four-course menu looks heaven sent, and we can’t wait to taste their mouthwatering food – Butterbean Groundnut Sauce with Coconut Rice and Roasted Sweet Potato; this meal sounds life changing.
For more information and tickets (£25 per head) visit – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-krio-kanteen-supper-club-launch-tickets-31464751920?aff=eac2
Make sure you follow The Krio Kanteen on Facebook to stay updated on future events.
Subject – Joe Faulkner
Writer & Photographer – @Kofi Dwaah