Hephie’s Cloud Kitchen is taking Nigerian food to a tastier level in Nairobi. As the name implies, the eatery has no restaurant and operates a food delivery service.
“My inspiration was to fuse African cuisine and culture because I feel the world needs to know more about it,” said founder and executive chef Hephzibah Osinubi.
The idea of a food business started in 2020 during the Covid-19 lockdown when Osinubi would cook for friends at home. People enjoyed her food so much that some started ordering meals.
Osinubi was born in Nigeria and moved to Kenya in 2019 with her husband. Hephie’s Cloud Kitchen opened in May 2021.
“The cloud model was informed by the pandemic, which changed people’s dining culture. It is also a leaner and more technology-based way of running a restaurant,” she said.
The kitchen, operates 24-hours a day with just 10 staff.
“Sometimes people want a taste of Nigeria prepared buffet style and others just order a few dishes. We can include items like ugali, and kachumbari,” the founder said.
She is a trained chef, and credits her knowledge of Nigerian cooking to her mother, who ran a catering business, and her grandmother who owned a restaurant.
Every month Osinubi hosts a Nigerian “food mixer”, where small groups of guests can experience different dishes.
The mixers are held at different outdoor venues. The one I attended, on a rooftop, had a casual, conversational vibe with background music, cash bar and a buffet of several dishes.
Nigerian cuisine has lots of sauces and stews accompanying various starches such as yams, rice, plantains and "swallow", made from cassava, maize or wheat. The base for Nigerian sauces and stews is tomatoes and peppers, chillies or capsicum. “We even make our own Nigerian pasta sauce which is made from fresh tomatoes,” said Osinubi.
Goat and chicken are the main meat items, usually fried or cooked into a stew. Mackerel is the most widely eaten fish in Nigeria and beans are popular.
I found the dishes mostly spicy. It is a misconception, said Osinubi, that all Nigerian food tastes hot because you can omit the chillies and use other types of peppers.
“Our food is mostly savoury with a taste that overwhelms your mouth. But we have some sour dishes, as well and a few sweet items.
“Some are naturally spicy and cannot be made any other way or else they will lose their essence,” she said.
“But I try to look for substitutes so that chilli is not the first thing that hits your senses, which happens to people tasting Nigerian food for the first time.”
In a typical Nigerian home, said Osinubi, you would be served a main dish accompanied by swallow, fried rice or jollof rice, “which is like our national food”.
Yams are eaten at any time of day. For breakfast one can have an omelette with boiled yams instead of bread. Turkey is also very popular, cut up, boiled with lots of spices, fried and simmered in a sauce. “We don’t cook large meat pieces because we feel the essence will not get into the meat,” she explained.