Adejoké Bakare

Adejoké Bakare

Adejoké Bakare

Nigerian-born Adejoké Bakare made the transition from avid home cook to restaurant owner in a matter of months when she won the Brixton Kitchen competition in 2019 and opened the first iteration of Chishuru. Since then, she’s fast built a reputation as one of London’s boldest chefs thanks to her unique style of West African cookery, influenced by the contrasting food traditions of her parents, and has been rewarded with a Michelin star at Chishuru.

As much as people might like like to think it, there is no set way of becoming a successful chef. Of course there are the tried and tested routes of attending culinary school or staging at different restaurants, but the fact of the matter is there isn’t a substitute for raw talent. Although cookery had always been a labour of love for Adejoké Bakare, when she entered the Brixton Kitchen competition in 2019, she had largely only ever cooked for friends and family but her unique style of West African food blew the judges away and she won the amateur category. Having gone on to launch the award-winning Chishuru, she now rightfully finds herself at the forefront of London’s West African food scene.

Adejoké (known as Joké for short) grew up in Kaduna in northern Nigeria with a Yoruba mother and an Igbo father, meaning that she experienced a wide variety of different food influences, 'my dad is Western and my mum is Eastern,’ she explains, ‘and the food cultures are very different, so I feel very lucky to have a connection to both sides.’ Some of her earliest memories of food involve watching her maternal grandmother making traditional East Nigerian street food such as dodo ikire (fried plantain). ‘I’d sit with her and try bits of the food,’ laughs Joké, ‘she’d shoo me off but I’d then just come back.’ As the eldest child, it was also often her responsibility to cook for her siblings but this never felt like a chore for Joké, as her love of food was already deeply embedded.

Despite this passion for cookery, it simply wasn’t a consideration at the time that it would ever be anything more than a hobby. Instead, she relocated to the UK to study microbiology at university ( ‘I only really went because it was what was expected of me’). A string of jobs first in health and safety, then at a London property company followed, as cooking remained something Joké just enjoyed on the side, until her friends finally persuaded her to organise a supper club.

‘My friends all knew that I’d always wanted to cook,’ she smiles, ‘I’d always call them up at the weekends and invite them over for a meal. For me, it was all about that joy of feeding people, the noise and the buzz of it all. They’d always say, ‘oh you should do this for a living’ and so when supper clubs started to be a big thing in around 2016, I thought I’d give it a try. My very first one was at Well Street Kitchen in Hackney and it was pretty much all friends and family there, with everyone helping out. The response was great but I was worried it might just be a case of people being nice, so I decided it wasn’t for me.’

After her initial supper clubs, Joké considered moving into street food instead but began to doubt whether it was the right decision to pursue a career in food at all and slowly started giving up on the idea. However, in early 2019, a friend showed her an advert for the Brixton Kitchen competition, which had a category open to amateurs, with the prize being a six-month restaurant residency in Brixton Village. Joké applied without thinking too much about it and was soon called in to cook for the judges. ‘I just cooked the way I normally would for friends and family,’ she says, ‘I remember they told me I had to choose one dish to prepare and I was like, ‘come on, one dish isn’t enough’, so I made them a starter, a snack, a main, and a drink. I explained to them that everything has context so has to be eaten together’

Joké sailed all the way through to the final, impressing the panel with the unique blend of different West African flavours in her cookery, inspired by the food she ate growing up. In April of that year, she was announced as the winner of the competition with mentor Jackson Boxer describing her as ‘completely compelling as a cook and a host’. For Joké, more than anything, winning the competition made her start to believe in her ability as a chef, ‘I’m always judging and doubting myself,’ she says, ‘but this actually felt like an indicator that my food was good.’ Having never stepped foot in a professional kitchen before, despite the fact she was soon to be a restaurant owner, Joké decided to stage at the likes of Ikoyi to gain experience, and then after an interrupted year due to Covid, she finally opened the doors to her Brixton Village restaurant Chishuru in late 2020.

The reaction to the opening was unprecedented given Joké’s lack of experience running a restaurant and people were soon travelling across London to try her menu, which she deliberately described as West African rather than Nigerian. ‘The food we eat across the entire region is very similar,’ she explains, ‘it just has different names. For example, across the northern regions of West Africa, everyone has peanut sauce, the spices just vary slightly, so it doesn’t seem right for me to only label it as Nigerian.’ Chishuru didn’t simply draw in inquisitive Brits wanting to try a new style of West African food, Joké explains, she also had a number of regulars who grew up in different parts of Nigeria and could see the influences from their own regions.

A glowing review from Jay Rayner and a place in the top 100 restaurants in the UK at the National Restaurant Awards later, Chishuru quickly started to outgrow its relatively basic Brixton Village site and in late 2022, Joké took the difficult decision to close up shop whilst she searched for a new, bigger home for her restaurant. She launched a crowd-funding campaign and in the meantime has continued to do short residencies, including at Carousel, to keep things ticking over.

You may think this pause has given Joké a moment to reflect on everything she’s achieved in a whirlwind few years, but that’s never been at the front of her mind. ‘I try not to get caught up in the hype,’ she explains. ‘I feel a responsibility to tell people the story of the food I experienced growing up and do it in the best way possible. That is my entire focus.’ And whilst Joké continues telling that story, those who have the opportunity to try her food can count themselves as incredibly fortunate.

In 2023, Joké relocated Chishuru to a larger site in Soho, refining the offering further, and in 2024 she won a Michelin star for her efforts.