UK’s first black female Michelin-starred chef: ‘We’re at the forefront of west African food’ | Chefs

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Fermented rice cake, mushroom puree and a side of plantain. West African cuisine is gaining traction in London, according to the first black woman to be awarded a Michelin star in the UK.

Adejoké Bakare is the founder and head chef at Chishuru, which received the honour on Monday. The restaurant, which specialises in modern west African cuisine, began as a pop-up in September 2020 after Bakare won a competition in Brixton Village. It then moved across various sites in London before finding a permanent home in Fitzrovia in September 2023.

Bakare said her achievement felt “quite surreal”. “It hasn’t sunk in yet,” she said. “Until this morning I was just focused on enjoying the accolade itself, which I’m hugely honoured by. But seeing reactions on social media today, I’m starting to feel a weight of responsibility on my shoulders too, it’s lovely.”

The dishes include sinasir (fermented rice cake), moi moi (bean cake) and ekoki (corn cake). Matt Paice, Bakare’s business partner, said more customers in London were talking about the “west African movement” in the capital.

Bakare said: “We’re [at] the forefront of west African food and there’s still much more to do so we focus on that … and just build and grow that way. In many ways being an independent restaurateur and chef is incredibly liberating. We make our own rules, we answer to no one, we do our own thing. As a black female chef I’m not totally sure I could have done it any other way.”

Bakare at work in her kitchen. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Akoko, another restaurant in Fitzrovia specialising in west African cuisine, was also awarded a Michelin star at Monday night’s event in Manchester.

Bakare said: “You can’t describe our food as ‘Nigerian’ though, because there’s no one food tradition … much of the culinary history predates the lines on a map. My parents are Yoruba and Igbo, and I grew up in Hausa territory, so my food is informed by all three of those culinary styles.”

She said most of their customers were unfamiliar with west African cuisine, allowing them to go on a “voyage of discovery” at Chishuru. “One of the most joyful things about running the restaurant is introducing guests to something new.”

Bakare says she takes diners on a ‘voyage of discovery’. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Chishuru was one of 18 new restaurants to be awarded a Michelin star on Monday. Bakare said: “It did feel rather odd at last night’s ceremony that 90% of the room was white middle-aged men. But the passion I see among young women in the industry is such that I’m confident things will change. It’s an enormous thrill and privilege to think I might have some influence on that.”

She said her love for food and cooking started young when she began collecting cookbooks at the age of 11. But she was encouraged to pursue more conventional career paths and went on to study biological sciences at university in Kaduna, northern Nigeria. “My culinary experience up to that point was running a fish and chip cart while I was studying.”

The chef says she now feels ‘a weight of responsibility on my shoulders, it’s lovely.’ Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

She moved to the UK and worked in various sectors including the care and property management industries. Having always dreamed of opening a restaurant, she arranged a supper club in 2017 before she won a competition at Brixton Village to open a three-month pop-up restaurant.

“When I won, it was almost like a sign to go: OK, you can now do those things that you want to do. There is an avenue for me to get on doing food more professionally,” she said.

When asked if the industry needed to be more diverse, Bakare said: “Absolutely. Especially in London, where there’s so [much] food, there’s so many people, you can eat the world if you want to, if you know where to look. I think more publications, more food writers, should go out more and explore all of this.”

The chief inspector at Michelin in the UK said Bakare’s “style is unique and the restaurant is a wonderful reflection of her personality and her cooking – it is fun, full of life, generous and hugely enjoyable”.


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