You’d be hard pressed to find a Nigerian foodie out there that doesn’t know of Iquo Ukoh. A prominent branding and marketing figure who represents some of the world’s largest brands, this Lagos local has helped put West Africa’s healthiest, heartiest dishes on the map thanks to her food blog, 1Q Food Platter. Through her careful guidance that inspires others to take up cooking the African way, Iquo has connected an entire community of eating enthusiasts around the dishes they know and love, such as Suya Meatballs, Chicken Carrot Stew, and Seafood Tomato Pepper Soup.
When she’s not working with brands, Iquo blogs regularly on 1qfoodplatter about new recipes, educates readers on where ingredients come from and how to use them, and even shares documentary-style videos that honour the simple joys of cooking. Inviting and inventive, Iquo’s cooking style is one that we admire and celebrate here at YajiBox — she consistently manages to push the envelope while paying tribute to Africa’s most classic dishes, encouraging others to experiment in their own kitchens and share their unique twists.
Our warmest thanks to Iquo for joining us on the YajiBox blog, and for sharing some fun stories and experiences with our own community of foodies and 1QFoodPlatter fans.
Where is home for you?
Is where you’re living now different from where you grew up? How so?
It’s actually not all that different, really. Currently, I live in Lagos. I’ve lived in Aba, Benin, Ibadan and Lokoja, since my father had to work in these places. For the holidays I visited Calabar and Oron.
Do you cook for pleasure, or is it your primary profession?
Initially, it was for pleasure. Since then, it’s become my work and my play.
Tell us more about your profession.
Until my retirement earlier this year, I worked as the Marketing Services Director for Nestle Nigeria. While at Nestle, I managed quite a few brands including the household name Maggi. That experience including journeys around Nigeria, gave me a deeper understanding of the local ingredients, cooking and eating habits not only in Nigeria, but other West African countries as well.
Where did you learn to hone your culinary skills?
My Mum was the first to show me around the kitchen. Hotel vacation jobs in my youth, also contributed to my interest in the culinary arts which led to my study in Nutrition & Dietetics.
What are you up to right now?
I manage my own marketing consultancy and I’m working on a product recipe.
Cooking is one of the best ways to let your mind wander while creating something totally unique and delicious. When you’re idly chopping, stirring, and frying, what are you most often thinking about?
Because I photograph my own dishes, I’m always thinking of how to creatively present the dish in its final form. What would look most appetizing? How can I use color, lighting, or presentation to get my audience’s mouth watering? I want my followers to be able to spend a few moments with me, and food photos are the best way to invite them in, so to speak.
Everyone’s got a kitchen tragedy – their stove went up in flames, they melted a spatula, dinner was ruined. Tell us about your last disaster (so the rest of us can feel a little better about ours!)
I recently over salted my minced meat balls. Yikes! I didn’t realize the seasoning I used contained as much salt as it did.
Who do you credit for your love of cooking?
My Mum. It’s hard NOT to learn how to cook with a Mum from Calabar, a region of southern Nigeria where cooking is an essential skill. While I always love Mum’s cooking, I also challenge myself to create healthy dishes, selecting nutritious ingredients and cooking for myself. I love meals that are both healthy and flavorful – that’s always the best combo.
Are you an adventurous eater? What’s the last exotic dish you’ve tried?
I am adventurous…to some extent. I recently ate crocodile meat, which was a first! But I draw the line at eating snake – I won’t eat it if I know a dish contains it.
If we were to step into your kitchen right now (don’t worry, we’re not looking at the dirty dishes), what would you be cooking? What would we smell, taste, or hear?
Hmm..it could be anything! But you’re most likely to find me cooking fish pepper soup, a staple in my kitchen.
African food is very diverse, which makes it so mysterious for most cooks around the world. How would you describe African cooking to someone who lives somewhere totally different, somewhere like Iceland?
African dishes in general are very flavorful. When you eat an African dish, you get a bit of everything; each dish is heavily influenced by geography, history, religion, and culture that makes each bite worth savoring and celebrating. However, while there are many unique spices found across the countries of Africa, there are also some regions where spices are the same without much variation.
What’s your ultimate African “comfort food”, the thing that takes you back to being a little kid in a big world?
Ekpang Nkukwo. This is a cocoyam based one pot dish. I remember mum would serve this in a big tray and we will sit round the tray to eat. That’s the definition of comfort food in my book.
What are some healthy bites you enjoy in your kitchen?
When I make Edikang Ikong soup, I always save the Ugu juice that I squeeze out when cooking. It’s too good not to enjoy by itself!
Are you the type of person to measure everything out, or do you cook more intuitively, “eyeballing” ingredients as you go?
When I cook local dishes that are savory, eyeballing and tasting as I go is the only way. When I bake, however, I measure. When it comes to baked goods, a little of too much or too little really matters, so I tend to be more precise.
When someone takes that first bite of the tasty, delicious food you’ve prepared, what kind of reaction are you always secretly hoping for?
A smile! I want someone to experience a moment of contentment and peace, knowing that what I cooked is made just for their enjoyment.
My favorite kitchen tool is the Silicone Spatula – I’m amazed at how versatile it is in the kitchen. It mixes, it scrambles, it scrapes, it stirs, it folds… I can go on! What’s yours, and why?
I love a good mortar and pestle. It blends, it crushes, it emulsifies…and if you’re low on dishes and want your dinner guests to think you’re really creative, it even doubles as a serving bowl. (My little secret…)
Vanilla or Chocolate?
Why choose? Both!
Where do you typically shop for your food?
The open market for local dishes and supermarkets and green grocers for continental dishes.
If you were one of the Spice Girls, which “Spice” would they dub you?
In your opinion, what’s one of the most underrated ingredients used in African cooking?
African nutmeg – Ehuru
Some like it hot! Are you into sweating, panting, eyes watering spice in your food, or do you like mellow dishes?
Very very hot. The hotter the better. I like to bring the fire! ????
What’s a spice you like to use that packs a TON of flavor in just a small pinch?
The Adian Fruit, also known as the Uyayak. It’s an African spice used for both medicinal and cooking purposes. A few pieces of the fleshy pod pack a punch of aroma and sweetness. I actually wrote about ways to cook with Uyakak on 1QFoodPlatter – read more about it here!
What’s one ingredient you love, but others may be scared to use?
Efirin, known as local basil. It’s packed with incredible anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that make its leaves so much more than just another ingredient. When you cook with Efirin, it’s almost like you’re cooking with medicine designed to heal and nourish your body from within.
Here’s a bit of a YajiBox challenge for you. Tell us about your pantry – using only one sentence.
My pantry is always stocked.
What’s your #1 birthday meal request?
Coconut rice, known locally as Edesi Isip. Nigeria loves rice in any form, but there’s something about this dish that’s transcendent. The sweet, savory, smoky, salty flavors meld together to create this taste and smell that bring me back to the best celebrations of my life.
What is your main culinary pet peeve?
Cleaning snails! I’m just not a fan of all the steps. Between shelling, scrubbing and rinsing it’s one of the more tedious kitchen processes that I try to avoid. Snails are delicious but the whole desliming process puts me off every time!
What is your culinary Superpower?
I’d have to say cooking Nigerian soups. I always try to strike a balance between comforting soups and soups that take an old favorite to the next level. Soups are a great blank canvas that I enjoy playing with.