CALL ME DOCTOR- CHEF & THEN WE CAN STEP INTO JALIKA’S KITCHEN
June 12, 2019
I come from a family of 7, my twin sister and I being the last born. My parents were total opposites in dealing with us, my mom being the strict catholic mom, and Dad always playing the good cop (haha). So I would say we had a very balanced upbringing. We had a comfortable life thanks to sacrifices made by my parents. They always made sure we had what we needed (note: not wanted, neededJ). That influences my values on what is important in life to this day, and I am forever grateful for that.
I knew I wanted to be a doctor at age 7, watching the show ER on TV. What they were doing was so fascinating to me then. Imagine mere human beings being able to stop other people from hurting, being able to change lives that much; I was hooked.
My parents always prioritized our education, giving up whatever necessary to make sure we succeeded, time, money, sleep, you name it. I am happy to say we made them proud. I finished A ‘Levels from Lebanese International School, Sierra Leone- at the top of my class, then medicine from College Of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences also at the top of my class. I have a masters in Global Health and Development from University College London- UCL (distinction grade), and then my Ophthalmology masters from University of Nairobi, also at the top of my class.
I came back to Sierra Leone about 2 and half years ago with a plan: Change Eye Care in Sierra Leone and make it amazing. Eye care is one of the most amazing disciplines, where with just a little bit of effort, the rewards are massive for both the patient and doctor. So my plan was to be the most amazing eye specialist Sierra Leone had ever seen. And I feel like I am achieving that, one patient at a time. There’s tons still to be done, but I will certainly keep at it. But I always had 2 passions in life, medicine and food. So as medicine was being so good to me, I decided why not try and see if food will be the same?
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
My relationship with food? It is one of the most satisfying relationships I’ve ever had in my life J. I absolutely love food. I mean without good food, what else do you have? Hahaha.
I started cooking when I was 12 years old. Growing up in our house (like most Sierra Leonean houses), there used to be rice with some sauce for lunch, and usually the same thing for dinner. I get bored easily with food, I always needed variety. I really disliked having to eat the same food for lunch and dinner. I complained so much, my mom got fed up and made me a deal. She offered to buy what I needed if I would take up the responsibility of cooking it for myself J. Yes, that’s my mother for you, empowering me to be responsible for myself even at such an early age. Needless to say, that’s how my love story with cooking started.
The two things I love about food: making a variety of different, unique yummy food daily for myself. I don’t just eat for eat sake (like my husband would say J), I need to be blown away almost every time. So cooking, developing new recipes and trying out new dishes, that’s a little bit of paradise right there.
The second thing I love, is feeding people. Even in school and university days I always had friends over eating at my house. The more the merrier, in fact, I always enjoy eating my own food more when I am with a group of delightful people.
AM I GROWING A PORTFOLIO CAREER?
Yes, now I would like to think so. Even though it started out as a hobby, it’s really taking off and I’ve started making some income from it. I know as long as the passion is there, it’s also only going to get better. And there’s definitely loads of passion right here. I am so excited about the possibilities; to see how far I can take this. It’s very nice thought not having to be reliant on one source of income, especially being a full-time government employee. I can’t wait to get to that point. It’s also nice to know you have options. My Dad always said “having options never hurt anyone”.
So I was out once with a group of friends who had recently moved back to Sierra Leone from the UK, and the conversation turned to food. They basically said it was so hard to find ingredients locally to make a good meal in Salone and that they shipped a lot of things from the UK. So I repeated this conversation with my big sister, Bintu (who is a big food blogger by the way, yes it runs in the family J). This discussion really left me puzzled, as I was making very sumptuous meals almost every day with stuff I get from the local markets. Also I had been posting pictures of these meals for over a year on my social media as straight from Jalika’s Kitchen J. So I wondered out loud if there was a way to show people that’s its possible here. Bintu was like “so why not show them. You don’t have time for it full time, but start a pop-up kitchen once a while and see how it goes. Make Jalika’s Kitchen official”. And that’s how it all started. In February 2019, we launched our first pop- up dinner/ kitchen. We are your leading local food pop-up in Sierra Leone.
The feeling…Hmmm do you know that one moment when I meet a real foodie like myself, and they try out my food for the first time, that look they have on their face when they find it fabulous, it means absolutely everything J. Now I get that regularly from my husband, but he’s biased so that doesn’t really count…much J But yes, that look is what I aim for. Especially when getting people to try out a recipe I had developed myself. I lived in Kenya for about 3.5 years, and I remember the first time I got my Kenyan friends to try out my Jollof rice. They were absolutely blown away. It was one of my best cooking days ever, getting these people who were nervous about trying out a different food for the first time, to be so completely satisfied by it; it was a little bit of paradise right there.
My big sister Bintu is one of my role models. Growing up, she never had much opportunity to spend time in the kitchen, so didn’t really do much cooking until she had he two kids. Trying to give them variety, she slowly started out cooking and discovered out of nowhere a passion for it. That’s how she jokingly started a food blog few years ago in her kitchen all the way in rural UK and boom! It’s actually become a career. So now she also has a portfolio career and actually earns decent money from her blog. Whenever we talk about her story, we are like who would have thought? That’s why when she told me I could do this, I really believed her J.
Two other chefs I admire greatly are Pierre Thiam from Senegal and Tunde Wey from Nigeria. Their works are so inspiring. To see how far they have come, how they are taking West African food global and in superb fashion too, it is amazing. Tunde Wey actually organized Pop-up dinners across America to introduce people to Nigerian food, all whilst being an illegal immigrant. From show casing Nigerian food to tackling black infant mortality in America, this guy is a hero.
Well I wouldn’t say I’m predicting this, but it’s clear the African middle class are moving towards a healthier lifestyle which includes healthy eating. This is a really great thing considering our low life expectancies, for a number of reasons of course. Also when we were younger, In Sierra Leone for instance, it was pretty strange running into Sierra Leoneans eating out at restaurants or going to hotels or resorts for meals etc. It just wasn’t part of our culture. These places would almost always be only populated by foreigners. But that’s definitely changing now. People want good food and they will pay for it if they can afford it. They also are more open to trying out new things. It’s so very refreshing and makes initiatives like my Jalika’s Kitchen or other pop-up dinners more likely to succeed. I am so excited to see what the future holds for Jalika’s Kitchen and the food scene in Sierra Leone. It means the world to me being able to be a part of it.