Five minutes with Jimi Famurewa
We spoke to restaurant critic, journalist and author Jimi Famurewa on his inherited love of stout, fond memories of teenage skating and his soft spot for a famously rude restaurant. Jimi’s new book Settlers: Journeys Through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London is out now with Bloomsbury.
Being a restaurant critic is a dream job for many… what’s the reality for you?
Restaurants are stories in themselves. I love that special moment of discovery when I’ve had a fantastic meal, experienced something I’d never seen before, am inspired by something completely unfamiliar. Food disarms people in a lovely way.
And why do you love writing about food?
Food is wordless communication. A way to be creative, clever or reference culture without speaking. I love being a conduit for that, trying to find the words so people can share the experience, almost taste the food.
Is there a restaurant you always return to?
There’s a Chinese restaurant in London’s Soho, called Wong Kei, that I really like. It has its own style – it would be almost disappointing if you went and they were overly nice to you! But I love that brusque style. My favourite dish at this time of year is the softest beef brisket over a mound of rice – like a warm blanket.
What’s your comfort food of choice?
When it’s cold I want something comforting to eat, such as spaghetti bolognese. My mother would make it in her own Nigerian style – dry and spicy. I’d have it with a Guinness. Stout is an obsession in West Africa. My grandparents loved their Guinness – and they lived well into their 90s.
Do you have any niche hobbies?
I’m a lapsed skateboarder. Apart from it being a fun and occasionally dangerous experience, skating was important to me as a teenager because it was a gateway to music, art, fashion, films and bands – all these subcultures I didn’t know about in my suburban British-Nigerian life.
Who are some of your favourite writers?
White Teeth by Zadie Smith was a formative read for me. And Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead floored me. I love graphic novels, and recently read Alison by Lizzy Stewart, about a woman in the art world of the Sixties – it’s beautiful, deftly done and affecting.
You’re also an author – what can you tell us about your fiction writing?
I had a short story published a while back called Teddybird about a stay-at-home dad with a young child, who has a burgeoning rivalry with another dad. It focuses on early parenthood when you feel a bit lonely. My eldest is now nine and you move out of that all-consuming phase!
And finally, what can you tell us about your new book?
Researching my book Settlers: Journeys through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London I visited markets, churches, people’s homes, looked into the practice of black children being fostered with white families, found out about community, faith and religion. I’d always been interested in the way I’d been raised, the specific values that my mum instilled in me and my brothers. It was a way for me to re-engage with my Nigerian roots.
Settlers (Bloomsbury Continuum £18.99) is out now.
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