Lope Ariyo is a Food Blogger and Chef, who hopes her debut cookbook ‘Hibiscus’ will be a gateway for people who haven’t experienced Nigerian food.
Please tell us about yourself.
I graduated from Loughborough University in 2016 with a degree in Mathematics and I’ve just finished writing my debut cookbook ‘Hibiscus’. I was also named as the Observer’s Rising Star of Food for 2017. I also create video recipes online.
There are quite a lot of young Nigerian chefs trying to revitalise Nigerian food abroad, in what way are you making your contribution?
I wouldn’t say I’m trying to revitalise Nigerian food as that gives the impression there is something wrong with Nigerian food and I don’t believe that. My cooking style is a mix of contemporary and fusion Nigerian food because it’s an extension of how I’ve grown up.
Congratulations on winning the RED and HarperCollins competition which aimed to find a cook start who could bring African Cuisine to the British mainstream. What encouraged you to apply to the competition and how did it make you feel winning?
A lot of my friends who had seen the competition advertised and had experienced my cooking (as well as tried my recipes online) believed that I’d be missing out on a great opportunity if I didn’t take part so I did. It’s one thing having your friends and family tell you they like your food but when people you don’t know like it so much they think you’re worthy of having a cookbook it’s something else.
Nigerians like yourself are creating a positive image of the country abroad, how do you think fellow Nigerian in diaspora can positively promote the country globally?
All I’ve really done is follow my dreams and aspirations. So that’s all I can really tell someone else to do. If you put 100% and more into your passion eventually someone will recognise you for it and if it’s showcasing Nigerian culture even better.
There is a rising number of young Nigerians abroad who are getting more involved with the country and culture in general, which wasn’t so a few years ago. What are your thoughts on this?
I can’t really speak for everyone in the diaspora. My friends have always been very passionate about Nigeria, in fact a lot more than I have. I think the difference is, now although slowly, media in the UK is beginning to become a lot more diverse and so more British-Nigerian profiles are being recognized and when they interview they talk about how Nigeria influences them.
Do you think it is important for young Nigerians abroad to be connected and what benefit do you think this will be of?
It depends on the person. If being connected to Nigeria helps that person feel more confident within themselves and gives them a sense of belonging that’s great. If not that’s that persons decision.
What was the inspiration behind ‘Hibiscus’ and what are you hoping it will achieve?
Hibiscus is inspired by the two years I spent in boarding school in Nigeria as well as how I’ve grown up in the UK. I’d like it to be a gateway for people who haven’t experienced Nigerian foods. I also hope it’ll inspire people to think outside the box when it comes to utilising West African ingredients.
What’s next for Lope?
Although I’m considered a chef now I would like to train professionally, also get work at a quality restaurant and then one day when I have enough experience open my own restaurant.