CNN Inside Africa recently featuresd Buka Restaurant, New York. Check out the interview transcript below. Please note that this a raw unedited transcript. You can watch the feature which is a lot more edited this weekend on CNN Inside Africa
New York’s Nigerian Spice
Nigerian food is famous for its spicy aromas and deeply flavored sauces. Delivering that heat is a specialty of Chef Lukman Mashood. His New York City restaurant, Buka, has become one of the most popular spots for traditional Nigerian cuisine.
Inside Africa is a weekly, half-hour, feature program that gives global viewers an insight into the diverse cultural trends and personalities that help define Africa beyond the traditional headlines.
Showtimes (all times GMT)
Saturday: 1130, 1830
Sunday: 0430, 1530
Hi my name is Lukman Mashood. Welcome to Buka New York. This is the dining area right before the dinner crowd. Let me take you back to our kitchen.
I’m going to make egusi, egusi is a very popular Nigerian soup or sauce. It’s made of mellow seed, here as you know our restaurant is an authentic Nigerian restaurant so we use mellow seed, locust bean, palm oil, spinach, onions and banana peppers.
Yeah I mean they come here and like give me egusi, give me what you want…it makes me very proud, very honored, to be a Nigerian like…like whatever you have to sell, you have to love your whole product. If you love what you are selling, other people will look at it and love it the way you like it yourself. But if you are not very confident in what you have, how do you expect people to actually like it? It’s a long story but that’s the beginning of this restaurant in the first place.
I’m not from a wealthy family. It doesn’t mean there’s no rich people in my family, I just have a lot of pride. I don’t want you to put me in a room and give me a million dollars. I want to go and sweat and make a dollar, that’s just my policy. One time, after I finished my high school,I cou ldn’t go to college, I couldn’t afford it, and when I couldn’t afford it, I started doing all this stuff, the first thing that caught my heart, I was selling ice cream, I was selling ice cream on a bicycle, I did it for a few years and was able to raise some money.
When I came here in 1996, the first real job I got was cooking in one of these hole-in the-wall Nigerian restaurants. And right before I left home, my brother’s wife, my aunt, she’s a great cook oh my god, so I learned a lot of cooking from her. So when I came here, the first job I got was cooking. So the way the (?) was cooking, I was able to use my aunt’s style and it was very good, so it became very popular.
A lot of reasons made me want to start a restaurant. I will put it this way – I’m a foodie, I love food a lot, I go to every kind of restaurant in every area, if someone says there’s a restaurant in this area of Brooklyn or in the city, its new or its this, and I go taste it.
I have friends that love these kind of places, when I go out with my friends, we go to every, Italian, French, kind of place, but when we go to Nigerian restaurant I pull them aside and I’m like this is a Nigerian restaurant, it’s not really that good looking…I thought to myself, and people had been calling me since I left, since I left cooking which was my first job, people were saying you need to open your own restaurant but I want to do it right. So when the opportunity comes, we raised the money and decided to open Buka.
This is (some meat skewer on the grill). When I tell you this is like a national restaurant, where we have anything from the three main tribes in Nigeria. Like what is common in the main part of Nigeria, the ebu, iosha and iruba, this is from the north, this is from the south, this is from the east, so we have all of Nigeria here.
Number one I would tell you it’s a personality for me. If you’re going to do it, try to do it right. We are giving it all our best, all the time. Sometimes we see a little mistake made but trust me, we are giving it 100% or more, all the time. Opening a restaurant, you have no choice but selling the food, its about selling the country Nigeria, its about letting people know where we come from, what we eat where we come from, its very genuine authentic food
The idea is to open a Nigerian restaurant that is going to be authentic Nigerian restaurant. In other words, try to educate the society, like Africa is not just a country. It’s a continent where there are so many countries. So by opening a Nigerian restaurant I’m telling you this is African food from the country called Nigeria. So when you come here you have Nigerian food. Nigerian food is different from Mali or Ghana food. so when you call it authentic Nigerian food, people when they come here they have a taste of Nigerian food.
What makes it so authentic is cause everything we use is mostly from home. We don’t try to Americanize it which is the biggest problem of many African products in America.
Buka is a hausa word in Nigeria, it means like all these little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, they are always very small, but if you ask any Nigerian that leaves home for a while and you ask them what buka is, the first thing you see is a smile on their face, like buka, everyone knows that’s where you get good food. So we used the irony of buka as not as a hole-in-the-wall but we sell buka food here.
Pounded Yam is mashed yam and I think a starch. It’s the most popular food we serve here. In Nigeria its actually yam that you put in the pestle but here in American we get it with flour and its almost as good…Nigerians love this a lot. It’s one number one seller in the restaurant with egusi and goat.
Nigerian food is great food, people need to come experience it, they are not going to be disappointed. If 20 people come here, I can tell you at least 17 are going to love it and come back again and have the same experience. So I think more people just have to find a way to let people understand to come and see what we have. That’s really what I’m very proud of here. The restaurant, sometimes I don’t even look at the cash machine, what we make, I look at the number of new people that come in, and are they going to come back? That’s what excites me.
There is no better way to know about a country or culture, than through food.