Food & Drink

Never Bread and Butter

Catching up with Joké Bakare of Chishuru

Photography ADAMA JALLOH

ADEJOKÉ (JOKÉ) BAKARE had been serving her modern take on West African food at supper clubs for some time when her first pop-up restaurant, Chishuru, came about, through a competition in 2019. That site became permanent after a glowing review, and when it closed in 2022, Bakare took the kitchen on the road, popping up in icons like Quality Wines and 180 The Strand, before Chishuru found a new home in Fitzrovia last September. Earlier this year, she made history as the UK’s first Black female chef to be awarded a Michelin star

Dear Joké, it was such a pleasure cooking with you at Quo Vadis a few years ago, and we have always admired your cooking hugely, but you have had huge and very exciting developments since then. Riding on the crest of your incredible success and many plaudits, how do you see Chishuru progressing in the next few years?

By the time this issue of the magazine is out, we’ll have just increased the complexity of the menu to offer more dishes and a wider range of meat and fish. So that’s my short-term target for progress, getting all that nailed down.

When Chishuru started, it was just me in the kitchen; now we’re a team, made up of chefs with a range of different backgrounds, and the menu will reflect that more and more. We will continue to tell the authentic story of West African food, and we won’t try to be what we’re not! We had a negative review just today, complaining that we didn’t serve bread; I’m happy to confirm we will never have a starter course comprising bread and butter.

You are at the forefront of the pioneering food culture of the West Africa diaspora in Britain, which is now getting the attention it has so long deserved. What would you say defines your food? What is different about your cooking that has brought it to such prominence?

I’m taking the food of my heritage, the food I remember my grandmother cooking for me, and giving it a contemporary London twist. I don’t like it when people suggest I’ve “elevated” the food; it doesn’t need elevating. We’re offering dishes with authentic ingredients and flavours but contemporary plating. We don’t call ourselves a fine dining restaurant – my aim with Chishuru has always been for it to be homely.

People usually bracket us with Ikoyi and Akoko. But now Ikoyi really only has one eye on West African food – it’s more usually described as “creative”. And Akoko is a fine dining restaurant, where you can see the influence of the French tradition in their menus. So, I guess Chishuru stands apart from those two in many ways.

A lot of cooks are now judged as much based on their list of producers as the dishes on their menu. You have been integral in opening the eyes and tastebuds of a British audience to new pastures, so I would love to know how you go about sourcing your wonderful ingredients.

We use mainstream suppliers like HG Walter for meat and Oui Chef for fruit and veg. But I have to go further afield for other things. Normal restaurant grocers can’t get hold of plantain that’s good enough, so I have an ‘uncle’ who drives up boxes of them from Brixton a couple of times a week for me. I go to some of the specialist shops in Dagenham for certain ingredients, and for other things – like yaji, a spice blend for grilled meats – I have someone in Nigeria who makes it to my specification (they’ve been making yaji for my family for decades).

As a nosy cook, can I ask what cooks and books inspire you? And what pans you cook in?

I own hundreds of cookbooks; it’s an addiction! My business partner Matt never stops teasing me about how many I buy. The two most recent purchases that I’m loving are Phil Howard’s recipe book of The Square, and Manoella Buffara’s cookbook from her restaurant Manu, in Curitiba, Brazil. I’m not a disciple of any particular pan brand. One type that I rely on is a Dutch æbleskiver – it’s a pan for pancakes (of course) and it’s the perfect size for cooking sinasir, the fermented rice pancake which we serve as a starter at lunch.


This article is taken from Port issue 34. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here