The Story of Mukase Chic — On Cooking with Spices and Family (Part III)
Talking about spices, how well are Ghanaian or African spice companies marketing our spices to the world, whether online, in big departmental shops like Shoprite or smaller shops?
Well I guess it’s not just about sending your products to Shoprite. Because Shoprite is looking for a certain quality, they are looking for the kind of branding that will appeal to all their customers in different countries or cities. And that’s what makers of spices should understand. If you are supplying only to shops in Makola, then you might not worry so much about branding and packaging. But if you want to reach many consumers in different countries, you have to do things differently. It’s not like large shops like Shoprite won’t consider local brands, but they want to make sure that your products meets the standards of the people who come there, and whether you have the production capability to meet growing demands.
But I think that some African spice brands are doing great. There is a spice brand called Essie Spice by Esi Bartels, started by a Ghanaian in the US. There is also Food Ace, owned by a Nigerian lady living in London. I also know of one called Pepper and Stew. And yeah, there’s also Dawa Natural Spice. Dawa has gotten its branding right and the packaging looks great.
The Ghanaian consumer has evolved into a very savvy shopper for whom taste, value and quality matter. So if those who manufacture the spices are doing things right, and making products that meet international standards, we can take our products to wherever we want to take it, and it probably won’t matter the country of origin, so long as it meets international standards and the company adopts best practices.
What do you think are the major or most important Ghanaian spices?
I think we love ginger, garlic and onions. These are the three condiments that you will never miss in any Ghanaian kitchen.
But for me, my favourite – I don’t know if I should even call it a spice, it’s an enhancer – is salt. I can cook without any spice, if I have salt, I will get the taste of my food right. Salt brings out the best flavor in any food. For people who can’t eat salt because of health reasons, there are substitutes that does the same magic as salt. We also have nketenketen, esoro wisa, efom wisa, pepere, dawadawa, you name them. They are all good spices.
What advice will you give to young Ghanaians who want to become foodpreneurs, food bloggers, chefs or restaurant owners?
There’s a lot of passion that goes with being a food entrepreneur and there’s a lot of learning that you have to do.
Because you might think you’re a great cook, but people may not think same. So it requires a lot of passion, research and learning. If you go somewhere and you eat something, ask questions. Try and see if you can also make that dish. You’ll need a lot of money if you want to do recipe testing, as you have to buy a lot of things. And you usually won’t get it right the first time. You will probably have to do it three times before you get that close to perfect taste. So if it’s something you want to do because you think everybody is doing it, you will give up very early. Like every business, you must be solving a problem, you must work hard and God willing you will make it.
How has your family and friends supported you in the journey?
My family is still getting used to the fact that I’m into the food business. But they are very supportive, especially my grandfather and my moms, and my brothers as well. My younger brother who is a Graphic Design student at Radford University has also shown an interest in food. He’s an amazing cook. He’s probably even better than I am. But he just sees it as a hobby, not considering making a business out of it.
Wednesday was the first time my mom tasted food from my restaurant. She sent someone to buy it without pre-informing me. Then she sent me a message with the pictures, saying she likes it. She ordered jollof with chicken and beef. So when I went to her office later on in the day, asking her more about the experience, like every mom, she had one or two recommendations on the amount of pepper, you know… My mom, my auntie and other family members are all on social media and they follow what I do. When I make a TV appearance, they watch it and call me to tell me how well I did.
I treat both family and friends like I’d treat anyone else who walks into my restaurant. I don’t give any special preferences, and they know that. Their input has helped made me better at what I do. It’s been a great journey. I’m growing gradually as a business and I’ve even ventured into contract catering and people are loving what I do. I love the feedback I’m getting.
Is there anyone you would like to thank?
I would like to thank my father, who passed away eleven years ago. He’s the first person who taught me how to cook. He literally held my hands and taught me how to grind pepper. He knew that I wasn’t interested, but he’d make sure that I’ll be in the kitchen.
He was such an amazing cook and I think he passed on some of his cooking skills to me. He was never afraid of flavours. He loved to be in the kitchen, and when he was cooking, it was so effortless. That’s one thing I learned from him, enjoying the process of cooking in an effortless manner. And by the time he’s done with cooking, mmm (giggles)… you know! I’m sure that if he was alive today, he would never believe that I am teaching people how to prepare our foods and managing a restaurant.
I will also like to thank my three moms; my biological mom, my step mom and my godmother. They are all alive. Each one of them has really influenced me. My step mom was a great caterer and a globetrotter, so I grew up eating very good food from all over the world. My biological mom is such a creative cook. She mixes new ingredients and makes something new that tastes so good. She’s very good with consistency as well. I’ve learnt a lot of things from my godmother, who I totally adore. She’s constantly calling me and advising me. I also want to thank all my siblings and my friends, some of whom have been with me from the very start of the journey and then my former bosses and work colleagues as well. They’ve all believed in me. I am where I am today because of them.