Cooking for others is in the family of Mercy Adelabu.
“My grandmother – she’s in Nigeria – was a primary school caterer,” Adelabu said one Saturday morning in the kitchen of her parents’ apartment in Mulhuddart.
As she talks, she places meaty spinach balls in a boiling efo riro, a Nigerian stew, with a pair of tongs.
“I love to cook,” says Adelabu, who now picks up pieces of stockfish with the tongs, which are intended for one of the two steel pots bubbling up on the stove.
One pot is for a customer who likes to season their food, she says, the other for someone who doesn’t.
Adelabu started a Nigerian take-home business last summer – when quarantine orders made home cooking all the rage, she says – but finding customers was difficult. “Because everything is in my house. “
Then a new company approached her on Instagram – where she follows Irish black-owned businesses – with a proposal to team up.
She said yes and it has helped her find new customers for her Nigerian cuisine, which she sells under the banner of Mera’s Kitchen, through Esca menu. “It helps me connect with clients in ways that I probably couldn’t because I don’t have a lot of connections,” she said.
Esca Menu’s mission is to connect colored chefs at home with those who want to buy their food, explains Shalom Osiadi, its co-founder.
“It really helps people grow. It was actually quite nice to see, for example, a black-owned version of JustEat, ”Adelabu said.
Osiadi says that compared to JustEat or Deliveroo, Esca Menu charges cooks less, at two percent commission on each order.
He hopes to give cooks of color who are struggling to start a business or break into the Irish culinary scene an opportunity to shine, he says, and help them break through the barriers that prevent them from advancing their cuisine and their culture. business.
“It can be difficult to find a job. We had people who went to culinary schools who were actively denied roles, ”he says.
Authentic, for real
Osiadi and his partner mulled over the idea for Esca Menu during the first lockdown in 2020, says Osiadi, sitting in the upstairs cafe at the Westin Hotel on a recent Tuesday afternoon, shaking a packet of sugar before to empty it into his coffee.
Before the pandemic, they were pursuing a QR code idea on restaurant tables that made menus appear. When the pandemic hit and people stopped eating out for a while, they decided to pivot, Osiadi says.
They launched Esca Menu in January 2021 and by March it had gathered a pool of customers, he says.
“I knew a lot of people in the West African community who are basically very, very passionate cooks,” says Osiadi. “But due to lack of resources, they can’t really start their business. “
Research shows that the Irish labor market can be hostile to migrants and “to people who have done better than their white counterparts in college,” says Osiadi.
He wanted to change that, he said.
White chefs can learn a recipe and cook dishes from countries they’ve never been to, Osiadi says, and if they have connections, they can grow a culture they don’t know much about.
For him, he said, it is unfathomable. “For example, a Thai person, for example, trying to find a job in a Thai restaurant will be considered a white man, that doesn’t make sense to me, like, you know what I mean? “
Adelabu, the young cook from Mulhuddart, says she always wanted to study science. But she flirts with the idea of a parallel course to culinary studies, to broaden her horizons.
She never imagined, she says, that her small home-based business could find its way onto an online catering platform.
For Ruth Anokwute – known to her family and friends as ‘Ruby Tuesday’, the free-spirited woman from a Rolling Stones song – the birth of Esca Menu was a beacon of hope, says- she.
As a “woman of faith,” she took Osiadi’s Hebrew first name as a sign of something good, she says.
Shalom, after all, is a greeting, she said. “It’s an old biblical word. I thought I was going to trust the Lord, ”she said.
When Osiadi contacted Anokwute to hire her as a cook, she was facing a series of unfortunate accidents that had shut down her food businesses one by one, Anokwute says.
Anokwute grew up in Brixton in South London with Ghanaian parents. She specializes in Ghanaian and Jamaican cuisine.
When she moved to Dublin almost two decades ago, “a friend of mine, Richie Taplin, God bless his soul, had a friend, who had a recording studio, and he let me cook in the backyard and in the garden, ”says Anokwute.
“And my pals, Richie and all the rest of them were like, ‘Wow, this is really good!'” She said.
Taplin was a well-known community figure in the Liberties, heavily involved in the successful campaign for a park on Bridgefoot Street. He passed away suddenly in June 2019.
After cooking in the backyard, Anokwute has set up pop-up food stalls at festivals like Electric Picnic and Body and Soul.
For a while, she hosted reggae parties for a band called Rub A Dub Hi-Fi Crew at the Tivoli Backstage on Francis Street, she says.
After that, she partnered with a rickshaw company that had a warehouse in Smithfield where they stored the bikes. “Up front was a cafe,” she says, and she cooked food there for a while, going from pop-up to lighting.
A fire put an end to that, she says. “We lost everything in the flames, I mean, it was a loss for me too.”
Then Anokwute got a cooking concert at Berlin D2 bar on Dame Street. But a judge refused to renew the bar’s license in May after breaking the rules of Covid-19.
Anokwute was delighted, she said, to hear from Osiadi. He sets up a kitchen space for her because she cannot cook at home.
Her food smells too strong, she says, and in her Georgian house in Rathmines, it is unfair to her neighbors in the other apartments.
“I’m in the basement, so there is no extractor, and the smell is very strong when you are dealing with garlic, ginger, curry and cilantro,” Anokwute said. . “You can feel it at the end of the road,” she laughs.
Osiadi arranges to move Anokwute to a location in Churchtown because his food tastes divine, he says, so it’s a surefire way to generate income for the business.
“She’s a great cook and I think she should be able to cook anywhere she wants,” he says.
It is quite common that the cooks at Esca do not have a suitable space to cook at home, says Osiadi. At the moment, he does not have the means to help them all.
But sometimes they can partner with kitchens around Dublin and set them up for a while, Osiadi said. “But obviously it comes at a cost to us.”
Empower the outsiders
Esca Menu currently has around 60 cooks, says Osiadi.
By sampling the menus online, customers can find Ghanaian jollof for € 5, Nigerian ayamase or green pepper stew for € 30, and Croatian peas for € 10 per serving.
Dubliners can enter their addresses on the website and find cooks and menus nearby.
All the cooks are visited by environmental health workers from the Health Service Executive (HSE), Osiadi says. “They do an inspection, come back and tell us, they’re good to go, they can legally start selling.”
If the HSE doesn’t give the green light, they must let the cook go, he says – and they did. A company called Lynk Courier handles food deliveries, Osiadi said.
Osiadi says he recently pitched the idea for Esca Menu in an yet to air reality show in the UK, where he won a £ 100,000 prize from Amazon. The show must air on Amazon Prime.
“I believe we are empowering a whole group of people who have been marginalized so far,” says Osiadi. “And if that doesn’t work here, I know it will work in the UK.”
At the moment, he doesn’t work with any restaurants, he says, because it conflicts with his core business notion: helping oppressed cooks of color prepare the food they grew up with, finding buyers. and build the confidence needed to plow. cheeky.
Adelabu, the young cook from Mulhuddart, said she felt seen. “It kind of helps us shine in a way.”