Chop, chat and chill at Chuku’s

We’ve all heard of tapas before – small portions of Spanish foods, often enjoyed with drinks and good company. What we hadn’t of heard of was Nigerian tapas. A creative and daring food venture, Chuku’s offers Nigerian cuisine served in bitesized portions, allowing guests to savour a wide menu of Nigerian delicacies and enjoy a sociable dining experience. Chuku’s has had a number of successful pop-ups and recently celebrated its 1st birthday – so what better time to catch up with Emeka and Ifeyinwa, the brother-sister power duo behind Chuku’s?

1 – What is Chuku’s and how did it come to be?

Emeka: Chuku’s is the world’s first Nigerian tapas lounge, where we create happy and chilled out moments inspired by the beauty of Nigerian cuisine and culture. Simply, it’s the place to come to chop, chat and chill, with “chop” being Nigerian slang for “eat”.

Having seen how much our friends loved our mum’s Nigerian cooking when we were growing up and their struggle to find (and make) the food for themselves, we wanted to bring them their favourite Nigerian dishes locally. But we also wanted to really explore Nigerian cuisine, fusing traditional recipes with foods we’d also come to know through our travelling experiences and growing up as part of the diaspora. So we came up with the idea of offering a variety of small plates (tapas) to give people the best opportunity to journey through the cuisine with us.

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2 – How well have Londoners approached the unique idea of Nigerian tapas?

Ifeyinwa: With so much enthusiasm. Londoners have an appetite for trying new things, so when they hear something as unique as “Nigerian tapas”, they’re instantly curious.

3 – We love that you encourage your guests to “chop, chat and chill” – aka eat, socialise and relax in a vibrant and fun atmosphere! Why do you think this motto has proven to be such a success?

Emeka: It sets the tone. There aren’t many places in London outside of the home where people feel they can just kick back. We’ve got some great outdoor spaces here but for the most part, our weather doesn’t allow us to make the most of them. It’s why so many people end up taking themselves abroad to escape from their schedule and traditional frenetic social experiences. We offer them that oasis of calm and culture in their home city.

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4 – What are your personal favourite food choices at Chuku’s?

Ifeyinwa: Our suya prawns, which we added to the menu this summer. I love prawns in general and the combination of the honey with mixed spice suya seasoning is like a little taste of heaven in my mouth.

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Emeka: Moi Moi. Hot or cold, this dish I can chop for lunch, dinner…or breakfast. It’s also super healthy and suitable for vegans. I’m not one myself, but I’m not a big meat eater, so this is perfect for me. It’s made from puréed beans, red peppers and onion, and is similar to polenta. The best way to describe it is as a savoury bean cake packed full of flavour.

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5 – We notice that you’ve done your fair share of travelling, with both of you having spent time living in countries across the world. How much of a role do you think your travels have had in shaping your personalities and in creating Chuku’s?

Ifeyinwa: It’s shaped me a tremendous amount. When I was in Martinique I really developed an appreciation for the slower pace of life, and now I’m back in London I make a conscious effort to try and do less but enjoy more. Whilst travelling, I also found myself in many situations where I was dependent on complete strangers.

When I first moved to France last year, I didn’t have anywhere to live so I was couch surfing, and in Martinique I had to hitch-hike pretty much everywhere. The warmth and openness that people displayed towards me has definitely contributed to me being a more open and outgoing person. And after many random interactions with strangers, I learnt I like talking to people. I like learning about people’s lives and hearing different perspectives. So I was very clear that I wanted Chuku’s to be a place where you could feel comfortable striking up a conversation with a stranger – something I missed when I first came back to London.

Emeka: I’m just nodding in complete agreement. My travels took me to South America though and then to Spain, where I fell in love with the tapas social culture. So, it has clearly had a big influence on the creation of Chuku’s. It was also only when I was travelling around Africa a few years back and saw the beauty of the continent for my own eyes (as an adult) that I knew it had to be shared back home in the UK. And then it was the energy of Nigeria’s community of young entrepreneurs that truly inspired me to get going with the business.

6 – How do you find working together at Chuku’s as a brother-sister duo, and would you recommend working with close family in a business venture?

Ifeyinwa: I love it. It was a little bit cool to start with, but with each month that passes I become more and more appreciative of the fact that my business partner is my big brother. During the good times, it’s all jokes and banter and during the challenging times, I know he’s got me back and we are able to support each other. He knows me so well, so it might be after a long day he’ll pull over and get me a cream soda from the corner shop or remind me to go for a run. And he can do those things because he knows what I like and what is important to me.

Emeka: I don’t think we’d necessarily recommend people work with close family in a business venture. It very much depends on the individuals and the nature of your relationship and your vision for the venture you’re about to embark on. Ifey and I have worked on projects previously, since we were kids on a mission to learn Cool Runnings word for word. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and for this latest mission there was only one person I wanted to ever start it with.

(We’re convinced that learning Cool Runnings word for word is ultimate #SiblingGoals!)

7 – Given that Chuku’s recently celebrated its first birthday, we thought we’d throw in a few related questions…

– What were your first ever jobs?

Ifeyinwa: When I was 16 I actually started my own dance school to avoid having to work in my dad’s office or spend my weekends working in a shop. So my first job was teaching dance and I relished every moment of it. Dance is my first love, so it was a perfect fit.

Emeka: The summer I turned 16 I worked in a Business Enterprise Centre, advising budding entrepreneurs from disadvantaged backgrounds on how to turn their dreams into action. I was the Administrative Assistant and, looking back, it teed me up nicely for my career in strategy consulting and now as an entrepreneur myself.

(We can see where the entrepreneurialism behind Chuku’s came from!)

– What were the first concerts that you went to?

Ifeyinwa: Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveShow at the O2 in 2007. I was so in love with him at the time and I remember thinking that my life couldn’t get any better than that night.

Emeka: I don’t do live music often. I once saw Kanye West at the O2. But my fonder memories were of following my older cousins to their Boiler Room sets back in the day. I still love my old school garage and grime. And next month I’m seeing Dizzee Rascal in concert for a playback of his first ever album. That’s going to be dope!

– When did you first realise that Chuku’s could really make it in London’s food scene?

Emeka: Half way through our first event. When I saw our pop-up full back in August last year, I just knew the Nigerian tapas concept was something special. What I wasn’t sure was whether we were the right people to drive it forward. Did we have enough have experience? That was a nagging doubt. One year on, we’re much wiser and I can confidently say we are. Yes, we have lots to learn and lots of work to do, but our passion for our work is huge.

Ifeyinwa: For me, it was our January pop-up. It was only our third one and, significantly, the first pop-up we did that wasn’t ticketed. In the run-up, I remember being nervous about that. Would people turn up if they hadn’t invested in a ticket? I didn’t know. But in the event, my fears proved to be unfounded. People came in droves. Within half an hour of opening we had a full house and it stayed like that until closing.

Our August and September pop-ups had primarily been attended by people that Emeka and I knew, but in January we had attracted a large enough crowd for there to be an hour-long queue outside our doors and the majority of these guests were people we had no connection to. I went home that night thinking there is a demand for this, Chuku’s can really be something, and I felt so excited to be returning to the UK permanently to make it happen.

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We were really glad to learn more about the brains behind this fantastic new food concept. Interested in finding out more? Then you’ll have to chop chat and chill at their next pop up –  be sure to sign up to the Chuku’s mailing list so you don’t miss out!