On Caribbean Cuisine
England-born Nigerian-based Damilola Onalaja studied financial economics at the Kingston University and banking and finance at the London Guildhall University. In 2015, she founded Indulgence & Spice, a Lagos-based catering company specialising in Jamaican/Caribbean and Nigerian cuisine. Onalaja was one of the 56 participants in the Flavours of Lagos food fair held in October 2016.
Please tell us about yourself and how you ventured into the world of cuisine?
I was born in England but shortly after, I was brought back to Nigeria before relocating back to England at age 11. It was then I developed a passion for cooking while living and schooling in Enfield, North London. I was always curious about flavours and combining ingredients, so I mostly stayed and worked with my mother in the kitchen. This was when I discovered I had a flair for cooking. I also loved food technology at secondary school where I learned to prepare continental dishes.
What sparked your interest in Caribbean cuisine?
My best friend at school was Jamaican and because I visited her often, I learned from her how to make brown stew chicken. At some point, my sister had an au pair from Jamaica who taught me how to make escovitch fish and their famous sweet coleslaw. I got married and my husband also liked experimenting with food so we ate out often and tried out new recipes. We were partial to the Caribbean foods and so I began learning how to cook them. His first cousins are half-Jamaicans so I was able to get authentic recipes and ingredients from his aunt.
How did you adapt your cuisine of choice to the Nigerian market?
In 2008, I began working from home as a caterer doing mainly Nigerian cuisine and in 2013, I signed up for cake baking and decorating classes, which I did for a year. When we made up our minds to relocate to Nigeria in 2015, I wanted to set myself apart from other caterers by creating a niche market so I spent 4 months setting up a fully functioning comfortable kitchen I could work from. My first outing was with Malas, a catering outfit who mentored me on becoming one in Nigeria. In my opinion, they are one of the top 5 who specialise in Nigerian and Oriental cuisine. They gradually introduced Jamaican food to the party scene and people responded positively to it. It has been a wonderful experience meeting and interacting with people and I have gained confidence which birthed Indulgence & Spice.
What inspired the name of your business?
I chose Indulgence & Spice because I bake, as well as make Caribbean food. It is about indulging in treats and having foods spiced up.
Do you still work as an economist/banker?
No, I do not. I am full-time homemaker and caterer for now, and my training as an economist helps.
Are you participating in more food fairs?
Not at the moment because I have several events I am catering for.
What similarities do you find in the London and Lagos hospitality and cuisine scene?
World over, people appreciate good food and great customer service. This is intrinsic to any catering business and I am trying to combine both.
Are you planning to open a restaurant or just work with an outdoor catering model?
Not at the moment but if Caribbean cuisine becomes sought after, why not?
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