Last month we celebrated the excellence of African music at the Wembley Arena. As ever, this year’s rendition of One Africa Music Festival was an unforgettable night. Working back stage and behind the scenes of this event was Margaret Overo, founder of Shakarah, a catering service which is committed to providing “a sophisticated edge to food of the African diaspora.” I spoke to this self-made entrepreneur to find out more about her company and the further of African food in a city like London.
How long have you been woking in food?
Practically all my life if we count within the family home. But professionally its been two years. My work was born out of need rather than a desire. There was a gap in the market and I was asked to fill it. I got my qualifications and then stated doing backstage catering and then it mushroomed from there into events.
When did you realised this was what you wanted to pursue as a career?
I think it was when I was in my late twenties, early thirties. I thought: our food is good, not just west African food but African food in general and across the diaspora. I had just come back from a trip to Cuba and the food was amazing. It was amazing because I saw that they were still practicing elements of Yoruba culture. There were so many element of African food.
But there is not much in the way of fine dining. When you’re attending an event like a wedding, you don’t want to come from your house and see the same presentation you would find at home. There isn’t many authentic fine dining experiences with African food in London and thats where the concept of Shakarah come from.
I’m talking about the evolution of African food. Our food is great but it needs to evolve a bit more. My stress is on the authenticity. There are restaurants which have the African concept but have excluded the authenticity, it may not have the African flavour. That’s where Shakarah is different.
What food do you most enjoy preparing?
The Shakarah jellof rice. I don’t have the time for the Nigerian vs Ghanaian debate. My mum cooks jellof rice differently so I’ve taken what was a family recipe and I’ve evolved it in terms of flavours and ingredients. I use sea food and scallops. It’s a little away from the traditionally. There’s a paradox there in that you the uncles and the elders eat my food and say “my daughter you have done well,” when I prepare my signature jellof rice. At the same time, like the new generation, I have also started to mix and match. So the older ones eat it not realising its still different but the younger generation appreciate its difference. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Theres a mini revolution happening with African food. Its an exciting time.
How do you prepare for an event as large as One Africa Music Festival?
The first thing I do is assess the venue and clients; need to then get an understanding of everyones dietary needs. My aim is always excellence. I want my food to always maintain the Shakarah standard. For example we have a signature Shakarah jellof rice. A lot of the artists have fallen in love with it. I’ve set the bar and I have to maintain that bar. I need to ensure that my staff also meet that bar, behaving in a professional and diligent manner. When your back stage you need to be diligent. And then of course scheduling everything etc.
What do you see for Shakarah over the next few years?
I want to carry on with events. I’m working with an events management company which I think is a logical business enterprise to buy into. It’s really about broadening our scope from weddings to carrying on with galas and events. I was to increase the use of our customer base to include corporate. It’s growing the business. Maybe going from a mobile service to a static shop perhaps.
Of course we had to ask Margaret for a signature Shakarah recipe. Here’s something you can try from home:
Ukwaju Duck (serves 2):
2 duck breasts
30g Tamarind sauce
1 fresh green chilli
1 tsp of honey
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 small sprig of fresh thyme
1 tsp of cumin powder
Salt & coarse black pepper to taste
1-2 tbs vegetable oil
- Wash the duck breasts and set aside.
- Chop the shallot, thyme and chilli finely. Combine the tamarind, honey, onion, garlic and cumin powders.
- Marinade the duck in this blend.
- Add salt and pepper
- Cover in cling film and set aside in the fridge for at least an hour.
- Heat a frying pan with the oil and fry the duck. Making sure to start with the skin first then the flesh side. Do this for 2-3 minutes.
- Place the duck in an oven tray. Bake for 15-20 minutes at Gas mark 4 or 180C.
- Plate and serve with a light green salad and/or pilau rice.
Margaret will be back soon with more tasty recipes.
Kay Flawless PR
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