A Modern Take on Sierra Leonean Cuisine: Here’s What’s Cooking in Maria Bradford’s Kitchen

Cuisine Noir Magazine. Nov 2019.

Maria Bradford is changing the way diners perceive African cuisine. She pairs her African-inspired modern savory street food snacks with English cakes and scones and caters them to a tea party in London. She mixes hibiscus with strawberries picked at her neighborhood farm in Kent and sells the “Passionately Bissap” juice bottles through her online store.

Bradford is a native of the West African country Sierra Leone that is typically associated with transatlantic slavery, Ebola, poverty and corruption. “I divert the conversation to food,” says Bradford, founder of Maria Bradford Kitchen, based in the UK. “I talk about my fun childhood in Sierra Leone, where I was surrounded by aunties and grandparents. Though I had a single parent, I was always around people.” Bradford points out that Sierra Leon is also known for welcoming people, beautiful beaches and great food.

Childhood Foods Reinvented

If you browse through Bradford’s Instagram page (which has 22K followers and counting), you can visualize the comforting, yet contemporary food she is referring to. Bradford did not want to present the stereotypical West African dishes, such as peanut stew and jollof rice. Instead, she is inspired by the street food she fondly loved as a child but was not allowed to eat, as her mother considered eating on the street to be rude. “I would use my taxi fare and walk back home so I could buy donuts after school,” she points to the inspiration behind her pumpkin drop donuts with cinnamon sugar. Her sophisticated dishes, such as fish untu (steamed fish balls) and lemongrass soup, morkor (sweet and savory banana fritters), cassava flatbread with pan-fried sea bass, use the flavors and ingredients from Africa and are presented with her own unique twist.

Bradford’s culinary journey started only a few years ago when she was cooking for family and friends. Her first catering gig — a cousin’s baby shower in London — motivated her to start her own business. She created an Instagram page, enrolled in culinary school, set up a catering business, and started a product line selling drinks and sauces.

Juices from Maria Bradford Kitchen
Photo credit: Maria Bradford Kitchen

Bradford creates the Sierra Leonean-inspired drinks and chili sauces with seasonal, natural ingredients. “Again, I took from the beverages sold from bicycles on the streets and had my own take on them,” Bradford explains. With tropical flavors of coconut water, lavender, tamarind juice, ginger, hibiscus and mango, the different juice concoctions are great as cocktail mixers. She advises drinking them by themselves or adding a bit of brandy or whiskey for a special holiday treat. Passionately Bissap pairs exceptionally well with gin or prosecco. The products are available online on her website or by messaging her through her Instagram page.

Travel, Food and a Cookbook
Maria Bradford of Maria Bradford Kitchen
Photo credit: Maria Bradford Kitchen

When not cooking, Bradford is traveling and drawing inspiration from other chefs around the world. She takes cooking classes, cooks with local chefs, hosts pop-up restaurants and draws parallels between how people eat in Sierra Leone versus the rest of the world. In Javier, Spain, she went down to the fishing bay each morning and cooked with the locals. “Growing up, 90% of my diet was fish, as it was cheap and accessible, so I love to cook with fish,” she says. You can see many of her fish dishes in her picture feed. In Malaysia, she compares the chicken satay to Sierra Leone peanut chicken. Her latest travels took her and her family to a homestay in India, where she learned to cook from an older lady in Kerala. “It reminded me of my own family and how we love to invite strangers,” she adds.

“A cookbook is definitely coming at some point,” says Bradford, but currently she is focusing on renting a commercial kitchen where she can host frequent supper clubs as she continues to positively showcase the flavors of West Africa.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

London’s Walks That Trace History, Food and Culture

For Cuisine Noir. September 2018. 

London is one of the largest cosmopolitan cities in the world, where different races are not only welcomed but celebrated. The influences of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean are felt throughout the city’s food, fashion, music and art.

Here are some ways to get a feel for the global influences in London in just a weekend.

Eclectic Music and Food

London’s premier neighborhood is filled with pubs, cafes and restaurants. And what better way to learn about the oldest multicultural neighborhood than through its food? When immigrants moved into the area, up until the late 1600s, Soho was known as London’s “French Quarter,” and cheap eateries, small theaters, brothels and music halls crept in. It is also where the bohemian arts scene took off.
Photo: Black History Walks

London Food Lovers offers 3–4-hour-long walking tours filled with colorful stories of Soho’s writers, poets, artists and historical figures. Along the way, you will stop to taste some of the best bites in town. From smoked bacon sandwiches grilled on lava at Kua’Aina; tender and juicy jerk chicken accompanied by crisp hush puppies at the Rum Kitchen; to the best chocolate drinks and desserts made with cacao sourced from Cuba, Tanzania and Ghana at Italian chocolatier SAID – you will go home with a content belly.

Return in the evening to Kinoly Court for blues, jazz, afrobeat or salsa. You can see fire eaters and fortune tellers at the circus-themed nightclub Cirque Le Soir, or transport yourself to a postwar 1940s underground tube station at Cahoots.

Banned Books, Movies and Walks

Black History Walks offers guided walking tours of 2,000 years of London’s black history. Historian Tony Warner has identified nine neighborhoods and spaces integral to the city’s black culture, including the Nelson Mandela Statue, African and Caribbean War Memorial and the Mangrove Restaurant, which was a meeting place for the Black Panthers. The tour lasts 2.5 hours and the information spans hundreds of years of history.

Photo: Black History Walks

They also host screenings of banned movies and talks on banned books through their African Odysseys series. Upcoming features include Best of Nigeria short films and African Superheroes Day. Hear from filmmakers, actors and leaders and get a behind-the-scenes look at the city that most travelers often miss.

International Bites and Architecture

You can’t come to London and not taste real English cuisine! Eating Europetakes you back in time to savor the best bread and butter pudding, fried fish and chips with homemade peas, and British hard cider at old-fashioned neighborhood pubs.

Photos: Sucheta Rawal/Go Eat Give

Wander the streets of London’s eclectic East End neighborhood to discover ancient Roman burial grounds, Georgian-style mansions built from the French silk trade, hidden synagogues and the most vibrant street art in the world. Stop at Old Spitalfields Market for global fashions and vintage arts and crafts. Lastly, settle on one of the 56 South Asian restaurants on Brick Lane for the national dish of the UK: chicken tikka masala.

East End is also home to many black writers, including former slaves brought from Nigeria — James Albert (aka Ukawsaw Gronniosaw) and Olaudah Equiano (aka Gustavus Vassa) — and is the backdrop of the Sidney Poitier movie “To Sir with Love.” It is said that the area of Tower Hamlets in East End was also known as the “Harlem of London” because of its black settlement and rich cultural identity.

Read the original story on Cuisine Noir