Jamie Olivier; Hands Off My Continent’s Jollof Rice! #Jollofgate


 

Like many West Africans, I was aghast when I saw the picture of what Jamie Olivier tried to pass off as Jollof rice. Twitter was set ablaze by the B1aijQDCEAApYGlrighteous fury of West Africans, protesting the audacity of an international white celebrity chef, who dared to plagiarised (and badly so too), West Africa’s much beloved dish, Jollof Rice. To an outsider, this might seem like much ado about nothing, but hey jollof rice is not just any rice, it is a national treasure, a national signature, and as #Jollofgate fury has proved, it is an African pride. Touch our Jollof rice; we will come at you with united fury!

If you are still feeling lost as to what this is all about, here is a bit of back story as reported by BBC

 Here’s how to think about Jollof rice: it means to West African nations what paella means to the Spanish, what fish and chips means to Brits or what burritos mean to Mexicans. The traditional dish is made with tomatoes and spices and it’s widely considered part of the heart and soul of the region. So when British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver published his own “interpretation” of the dish on his website, there was always the potential for controversy.

His recipe was posted in June and went largely unnoticed for months – until this week. The reaction from Africans began with dozens of comments posted on the chef’s website in the past week. The conversation then moved on to social media where it escalated. The Oliver recipe has attracted 4,500 comments, a large number of them seemingly from Africans – and many outraged at what they say are changes Oliver has made to the traditional recipe. In the past 24 hours Twitter joined the debate using hashtags like #jollofgate and #jollof.”

Here is a link to Jamie’s Olivier’s Jollof Rice recipe, thank goodness the writer at least referred to it as “Jamie’s twist on a Jollof rice recipe”. Nevertheless, as someone with a stake in Jollof Rice,  I don’t want the name Jollof Rice associated with what Jamie served on that plate!  As an enraged commenter posted:

jollof 8

Yes , it is that serious!

There are bloggers who have already done this Jollofgate’s fiasco justice, but my favourite of the jollofgate blogposts is this post, and below is an excerpt from the hilarious post.

“It was deep, guys. We almost called in Iyanla Vanzant to bully-yell everybody into tranquility. There was basically a Twitter village square meeting, and the Nigerians and Ghanaians were not having it. And for good reason. How can you gentrify Jollof rice to the extent that it starts looking like paella? Sacrilege! We can share our children (Hi Brangelina, Madonna, or whichever latest Hollywood star just ordered their very own collectible in the form of an African child), our animals (for your life-changing, perspective-moulding Safaris), and our head-ties that you re-fashion into “urban head wraps”, but we will not share our Jollof rice *bangs gavel*”

Wow, that had me ROTFLMAO!

I am definitely not a foodie, I am not even an enthusiastic cook, however I believe anything worth doing at all is worth doing well. Jamie Olivier simply murdered my beloved Jollof rice.

Even amongst Africans, there is rivalry as to who actually owns Jollof Rice and whose version of this beloved West African dish is the best. When I visited Senegal some jollofyears ago, I was surprised when I was informed that Jollof rice originated from Wolof tribe of Senegal and that the dish derives its name from the word ‘Wolof’, which is also the language of the Wolof people. Jollof Rice is also known as Benachin meaning ‘one pot’. However, I must confess, when I was served what the Senegalese called Jollof rice, I was disappointed, but as a good guest, I kept my disappointment to myself. As far as I am concerned, wolof is wolof rice and jollof is jollof rice, they are two different dishes. I would never exchange my jollof rice for wolof rice! However, don’t tell the Senegalese that, they still believe Nigerians and Ghanaians corrupted their Wolof rice. Overall, it is a healthy rivalry. As a Nigerian who has tasted the Senegalese Jollof rice in Senegal, and the Ghanaian  Jollof rice in Ghana, I still maintain that Nigerian Jollof Rice is simply the best, with Ghanaian Jollof Rice coming a close second.

Anyway, as I said, I am not an enthusiastic cook and although Jollof rice is my favourite rice dish, I cannot cook jollof rice to save my life. I have several times to make jollof rice without success; it always comes out soggy, even my ordinary rice comes out soggy. The tasty jollof rice is a dish I have come to associate with sacredness because it is not easily available to me in London. It is a treat. Even while growing up in Nigeria, jollof rice was associated with parties and Christmas time. It is a delicacy one looks forward to eating at parties. Party jollof rice is the best there is.  Whenever there is a Nigerian party, I eagerly look forward to eating the Jollof rice. It is like an addiction.

If as a Nigerian, I cannot cook Jollof rice, why then am I angry that Jamie Olivier did not get it right? Jamie Olivier probably cooked it better than I ever could, but at least I am aware I cannot call what i cook, jollof rice, at best it is a concoction, which basically is a substandard version of Jollof rice. And, because I know the importance and significance of this cherished dish, I definitely won’t serve my version of Jollof rice to a guest. It would be an insult to the guest especially if they are Nigerians. I would be insulted if I was served Mr Jamie Olivier’s concoction in the name of Jollof rice. I would be like, “Are you taking the piss or what?”, and storm off in righteous indignation. Yeah, that is how much Jollof rice means to us Nigerian and Ghanaians. To us, Jollof rice has taken on a godlike status, so please don’t mess with our beloved jollof rice. What Jamie Olivier posted as Jollof Rice is an insult o, abeg.

Earlier this year, the food chain supermarket, Tesco, tried to market what looked like coloured rice and chicken as Jollof Rice. Africans in UK screamed blue murder and Tesco quickly apologised and withdrew the abomination it called Jollof rice. The thing is, anyone can come up with similar recipe with their own twist, you can name it whatever you want just do not ty to appropriate the name of a beloved national dish just to make profit.

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Some people have argued that by creating a recipe for the dish, Jamie Olivier brought the dish to limelight. However, this is a dubious claim and the quotes below from the BBC report sums up my feelings on this ‘exposure is good’ claim.

By creating this recipe Oliver has increased the exposure of the dish. Vera Kwakofi, from BBC Africa, says that’s part of the problem: “The danger is that in five years his version will become the official one.” The blogger behind Motley Musing agrees: “We have to ask ourselves who actually benefits from Jamie Oliver’s ‘appreciation’ of Jollof rice. This doesn’t necessarily translate into value for Africans. For so long, different African cultures have been appropriated without any direct benefit to Africans themselves, and people are particularly sensitive to this.”

Miley Cyrus can try to appropriate our twerking and we will just laugh it off but hey, Jollof rice is off limits! Foreign supermarkets or celebrity chefs like Jamie Olivierjollof-rice-header1 should not mess with our Jollof rice. If it is worth doing, at least do it well.  And Jamie Olivier certainly did not do it well.

I could not even find the jollof rice amidst all that garnishing. What was all that shredded chicken doing in a jollof rice? Who cooks jollof rice with whole tomatoes with the stem still on? And hey, that chicken piece looks malnourished. Abeg, if you must serve your guest chicken, let it be meaty, with flesh covering the bone, otherwise it would be considered an insult to your guest. Also, why on earth was lemon used to garnish the jollof rice? Abeg reserve the lemon for another national delicacy; roasted fish and plantain. Lemon has no place in a jollof rice dish!

I am very particular about my jollof rice. I would not order jollof rice from a fancy Nigerian restaurant in London because I don’t want them serving me some half-hearted, over glorified, over expensive concoction they are trying to pass off as jollof rice. As much as I crave jollof rice, I would rather wait to eat it in its authentic form than compromise. Unfortunately, I do not really move in circles jollof-rice.fried-turkey-600x398where I am likely to be invited to ‘owanmbe’ parties in London where authentic Nigerian jollof rice are served, but my mum on the other hand gets invited to such parties. Whenever she is off to one of these parties, I plead with her to bring me Jollof rice and i find myself travelling long distance to collect the party takeaway jollof rice. Therefore, i really understand the sometimes over-the-top indignation of my fellow Africans as expressed in these selected tweets and comments below.jollof 7

jollof 14 jollof 13

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It is in this spirit that I join my fellow aggrieved West Africans to inform Jamie Olivier to hands off our beloved Jollof rice. If it is not Jollof rice, it cannot be like Jollof rice. A counterfeit is never like the original. If it is not broken, don’t try to fix it.  Simples!

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Comments

  1. Luz Gonzalez says

    International chefs shouldn’t even exist. That’s all they do, appropriate cultural dishes and add emo chicken legs to them and cherry tomatoes (shakes fist)! Honestly, we should have a jail for these kinds of people, people who dare to think that they can cook dishes from around the world. And we should only give them porridge and yams.

    Consequentially, I did once ask the good people at Taco Bell, “What piss is this?” when they served me my burrito, and the next time they served me a burrito, it did smell like piss. I have since then had to switch Taco Bells, because it seems that they kept a steady stream waiting on me every time I ordered anything from Taco Bell. Sometimes, I still smell it in the bathroom. Maybe, with world hunger and whatnot, I should stop telling people who make my culture’s foods, that their food is piss, because then they’ll piss in my food. It’s a proven fact.

  2. Meggamat says

    Honestly food culture (and culture in general) always seems rather foolish. Food, at the end of the day, is the fuel on which your body runs. By all means, eat the kind of food you like, but if you spend more calories attempting to get the “perfect dish” than you get by eating it, you wasted your time. Considering your last pose was an objection to t the use of culture, I am surprised you are in favour of this. People need to see Jamie Oliver as the ridiculous fool he is. Gourmet food is like decorating a battery before putting it into a torch.

  3. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Luz Gonzalez- And that is why i am cautious about ordering my cultural foods from foreign restaurants who put those dishes on their menus but only make half-hearted efforts to prepare the dishes the cultural way as advertised, and most times those restaurants are overpriced anyway.

  4. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Meggamat- Seems like you totally missed the point. Food is not foolish, neither is culture but , you are entitled to your opinion on food and culture.

    Food is very much part of culture and culture is part of what makes our human societies. Culture is also dynamic which means they are susceptible to change. Some foods are so much part of culture that they are not just fuel for the body but a cultural signature. Just like some dances and songs are.

    When an international chef comes swapping in on a signature dish of a culture, and made it so unrecognisable but still calls what he created by the original cultural name of the dish, he needs to be called out. As noted in the post, there is the issue of cultural appropriation and the danger that in a few years’ time, the popular chef’s version would be trumped as the real version. Thereby, once again taking away something from a continent that has already been badly invaded and has paid dearly with not just the lives of its people but with its cultural landmarks and monuments as well.

    BTW, I don’t think Jamie Olivier is a ridiculous fool, I am sure he has his fans, I am not a food fan, so I don’t follow him. All I ask is that if he is going to be making dishes that are so much associated with a culture and posting the recipe, he should make the effort to get it right or as already suggested, provide a platform for a chef from that culture to help with the making of the dish. That is not too much to ask.

    Also, there is nothing in my post that contradicts my last post or anything I have written about culture. For many food is not just a fuel for the body, sometimes it is emotional relationship, sometimes it is cultural, for some it means family. Culture is not always a bad big monster.

  5. Luz Gonzalez says

    It’s actually cheaper to eat at Taco Bell than it is to go to the supermarket and buy all the ingredients and make it yourself. Cultural appropriation or not, it’s been a favorite in our family for decades. This is how the women treat ourselves; we go to Taco Bell (the men are tired of it). The employees are not Spanish speakers and have probably never been to Mexico. The food doesn’t taste like traditional Mexican food. We inhale it anyway and thank our recent good fortune that we’re not eating spaghetti noodles every day, sharing a potato for Christmas, and having to kill the family’s pet goat for food, anymore. If our kids waste food, you should hear the lecture they get.

  6. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Luz Gonzalez- I guess i wouldn’t mind if instead of burger and chips, i could order popular Nigerian snacks like fried plantain, fried yam, moinmoin or akara from KFC or McDonalds. I would be prepared for its non-original taste but still be grateful that i can get these at cheap prices and on the go too. As it is, most restaurants in UK that sell these simple dishes/snacks overprice them that you just go WTF?

  7. smrnda says

    It’s one thing to cook something *based* on *inspired* by a traditional dish, and other to say it’s the same thing. Particularly when a dish comes from a region and culture of which most people are largely ignorant.

  8. Luz Gonzalez says

    With world hunger, local and international slave trades, and never-ending war, I honestly don’t have time to get annoyed at people for modifying a dish, showing other people how to do their self-admittedly modified dish, and then posting it on the internet. The burrito has a million different forms and people who like to put French Fries in them and sell them that way, as a heart-attack waiting to happen. Food evolution happens. Other people’s creativity isn’t something that makes me super-angry. Last time I got mad watching someone else’s creativity was during Birth of a Nation, upon seeing it over a decade ago, because that actually was reprehensible. All this food dish is, is a self-admittedly modified dish that another human was inspired to create. What do I care whether he’s Mexican or English or Ghanaian? International chefs do this kind of thing, and they modify all of their dishes because that’s what they’re inspired to do.

  9. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Luz Gonzalez- Don’t worry if you don’t have the energy to be super angry at international celebrity chefs who use their status to appropriate other peoples’ traditional dishes, modify it beyond recognition while still insisting on calling the dish by its traditional name, the truth is, no one asked you to. Be rest assured that no one would insist you be angry on their behalf. As you can see, many Africans , especially Nigerian and Ghanians are already showing their anger in their own unique, very humorous way.

    I can assure you that many of us are able to be super angry at the appropriation of our National signature dish by international celebrity chefs and still be capable of being super angry at world poverty, wars, Ebola, and what have you. The beauty of having an evolved human brain is that we can care about diverse things and multi-task effectively. 🙂

  10. Luz Gonzalez says

    That’s cool; be angry all you want to. I don’t see the world as Mexican-born-folks vs. everyone else, so if you want to make a burrito and put French Fries in it, I won’t berate you for appropriating my culture.

  11. Luz Gonzalez says

    That’s cool; you can be angry about it if you want to. I don’t see the world as Mexican-born-vs-everyone else, so if you want to make a burrito and stuff it full of yams, I won’t berate you for appropriating my culture. Same goes for if a white guy does it. What you look like and where you’re from shouldn’t dictate what you concoct in the kitchen.

  12. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Luz Gonzalez- It seems you really are confused about what you really feel about international chefs who modify the cultural dishes of others and slap it with their own recipe while still calling the modified version by its traditional name. First, you wrote

    International chefs shouldn’t even exist. That’s all they do, appropriate cultural dishes and add emo chicken legs to them and cherry tomatoes (shakes fist)! Honestly, we should have a jail for these kinds of people, people who dare to think that they can cook dishes from around the world. And we should only give them porridge and yams.

    Then you claim again that you don’t care if your traditional food is appropriated by international chefs. And when you were assured that it is ok not to be angry, you still wouldn’t let it be.

    It is ok to be confused about the position you wish to take on an issue but it is not ok to splash your confusion all over my post even after you have been told that however you feel about it, it is ok.

    Also, do stop derailing. You do understand that this is about international chefs modifying dishes while retaining the traditional name, and not about someone trying out a dish in the privacy of their own kitchen. You don’t have to be angry by appropriation of culture, you also don’t have to twist my post or other people’s anger, just so you could justify why you can’t be bothered to be angry. Truly, I don’t care if you are angry or not by cultural appropriation, especially as you can see, even those who care showed their anger via light hearted humour. So chill and btw, that could mean you will be chilling in the moderation box. 🙂

  13. dontsayhello says

    As a Nigerian myself that takes her jollof very seriously… I can’t take this piece very seriously. Mostly because this is the stupidity that no one seems to call Nigerians out for… Corrupt politicians steal, deceive, kill… And we barely hear a thing about it. Then a person does his interpretation of a meal that we did our interpretation of and we are grabbing pitchforks… Okay. Nice to see we still have our priorities straight.
    I know this is super late but I still had to put my mouth. Anyways… I just discovered this blog and I’m glad I did cos its rare to find a fellow Nigerian atheist that isn’t homophobic and sexist and is all for human rights. I applaud your efforts and I hope u are still active here.

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