Shokunbi earned his stripes within the restaurant enterprise at Chipotle Mexican Grill, rising to the extent of normal supervisor at a retailer in his native Bowie, Md. The chain left its mark on him, not a lot with its strategy to customization however with its big-tent philosophy. Clients at Spice Kitchen don’t stroll the road and decorate their plates of steak or hen suya. They do one thing maybe extra essential: They expertise West African flavors in a counter-service setting, a relaxed environment that, by its design, is supposed to ease newcomers right into a dish nonetheless largely international to American palates.
Spice Kitchen is Nigerian avenue meals by means of MiXt Meals Corridor, an ethereal, open house with massive home windows that flood the room with daylight, good for shining a light-weight on one among West Africa’s beloved dishes.
The chef and proprietor’s purpose is to vary “the way in which individuals take into consideration African meals,” he tells me one afternoon contained in the meals corridor, as he sips on a hibiscus lemonade spiked with ginger.
I might not wager in opposition to him. Shokunbi has presence: He’s a tall, barrel-chested man who has a hanging stillness to him, as if he absorbs all the knowledge round him however maintains his singular drive. At age 27, he already runs two companies — not solely Spice Kitchen, however a roofing and photo voltaic firm, too — and he has a lot bigger plans to empower communities of colour with investments in actual property.
However proper now, his goal is to bridge a cultural divide that he sees with West African meals in America: The mom-and-pop locations specializing in the dishes of Senegal, Gambia, Ghana and different international locations are likely to cater to their very own communities. He needs to Chipotle-fy the delicacies. In different phrases, he needs to make a acutely aware trade-off: Sacrifice a bit custom to introduce Nigerian suya to a a lot wider viewers. “I would like there to be extra entry for everyone,” he says.
Within the identify of bridge-building, Shokunbi offers me a fast schooling in suya. Hen and beef are two of the dominant proteins amongst Nigeria avenue distributors, who slice the meat skinny, thread it onto skewers, season the uncooked flesh with suya spice after which place the skewers over an open flame.
When you place an order, a vendor will slide the smoky meats off every skewer; chop and blend them up with purple onions, cabbage, cucumbers and different veggies; sprinkle the mix with extra suya spice; then wrap the entire shebang in a single sheet of newspaper, the sort thrown on the entrance porches of people that nonetheless love newsprint. You eat this scrumptious pileup with toothpicks or your fingers.
“The saying is, ‘Yesterday’s newspaper is at the moment’s suya,’” Shokunbi tells me. Which is why the founding father of Spice Kitchen makes use of the food-grade deli paper that resembles newsprint: It’s a nod to custom, even when his followers on TikTok can’t usually inform the distinction. They routinely give him grief about serving meals on a sheet from yesterday’s paper. “Newspapers are soooo soiled use parchment paper or one thing meals secure,” mentioned one latest commenter, ending her misguided rant with a facepalm emoji.
It’s simply a part of the educational course of. One other half? Understanding the properties of suya spice, a mix usually referred to as yaji amongst Nigerians. Shokunbi imports his suya spice immediately from the mom nation however dietary supplements and amplifies it along with his personal add-ins, none of which he’ll reveal, not even beneath heavy questioning. The man is aware of learn how to shield secrets and techniques.
However I did purchase a container of Shokunbi’s suya spice for 50 cents and tasted it by itself: The mix relies on West African peanuts, or groundnuts, which aren’t as candy as their American counterparts. However the combine additionally vibrates with cayenne and boasts the floral radiance of ginger. But there’s a deep, savory high quality, too, which can be because of the Maggi seasoning powder usually added to suya spice. One morning at residence, I scrambled some eggs with a wholesome pinch of Shokunbi’s suya mix, and all I can say is rattling.
The kitchen sprinkles its suya spice on beef, hen, shrimp and salmon, and every protein does an outstanding job of showcasing the numerous strata of the mix, save for the salmon. For causes I don’t utterly perceive, the clear, buttery flavors of salmon appear to swallow up the spicier parts of the suya mix. If the fish is your most popular automobile for the spice, take into account that you’re getting a muted expertise. Spice Kitchen serves its suya plates with a handful of sides. No matter you do, don’t miss the full-throated jollof rice or the efo riro, the latter a sort of spicy, spirited spinach stew.
As a local son of the DMV, Shokunbi has a severe appreciation for wings and mumbo sauce. He’s not making an attempt to re-create the mix at Spice Kitchen. It’s simply an excessive amount of of a conceptual stretch. However Shokunbi is placing a West African spin on wings, which he deep-fries, coats in a hot-honey sauce after which sprinkles with suya spice. Personally, I feel Shokunbi might make a killing specializing in these suya wings at a couple of nook carryouts.
As you would possibly anticipate, Shokunbi has grand designs for Spice Kitchen’s future. If he ought to reach his mission, Shokunbi would certainly change the world in his personal focused method, simply as certainly as Chipotle redefined Mexican fare for a technology constructed for velocity and customization. Proper now, these plans are simply desires, though I need to confess that, as I devour one strip of beef suya after one other, Spice Kitchen already modified one world: mine. I’ve turn out to be an everyday.
Hours: 12:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 12:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1 to eight p.m. Sunday.
Costs: From 50 cents to $22 for all gadgets on the menu.