Nigerian food meets fashion at a dinner party in Brooklyn

In 2010, while working as a corporate finance attorney in New York City, Busayo Olpona began making dresses using traditional African fabrics as a creative expression and a way to connect with her heritage. Born in Boston, Orpona lived in the southwestern Nigerian city of Ile-Ife until age 11 when his family moved to Davis, California because of his father’s job teaching African religion at the University of California. I was there. Davis. In 2013, she decided to turn her hobby into a business and launched Busayo, a collection of full-skirted dresses, voluminous pants, and puff-sleeved tops. They are all made in the country where she grew up.

Known for her love of bright color combinations, such as raspberry and tangerine, eggplant and sky blue, Orpona, 43, is currently visiting the Nigerian city. Several times a year we visit Abeokuta, Lagos and Osogbo to work with local artisans. Over the past decade, her designs have been noticed by celebrities such as Lupita her Nyong’o and Gwyneth her Paltrow and have been featured in luxury retailers such as Neiman her Marcus and Moda her Operandi. Ms. Orpona, who lives in her Brownsville, Brooklyn home, jumps at every opportunity to host a gathering. “Nigerians love a fun party,” said a childhood memory of her parents and friends dressed in Nigerian lace and headwraps and dancing to jiu-jitsu music by Sina Peters and King Sunny Ade. She says as she recalls her memories. “We celebrate everything.”

On a chilly Monday night in March this year, Orpona had two happy occasions to toast. It’s her 10th anniversary of the fashion label and a recent award from the 15 Percent Pledge, a nonprofit that supports black-owned brands. Rather than hosting in her home, she invites her friends and company supporters to visit Bedford Stuyvesant’s Nigerian restaurant, which has just been shortlisted for Best New Restaurant at the James Beard Awards. I decided to host dinner at the Dept of Culture. As the sun set, 15 guests gathered, including actresses Adepero Odue and Zainab Jah. Playwright Tracy Scott Wilson. Visual artist Daàpo Reo. And Yemi Amu, founder of Brooklyn hydroponic farm Oko, showed up to sample the imaginative offerings of north-central Nigerian cuisine by chef Ayo Balogun.

Before the meal began, Ms. Orpona placed an ogogoro, a bottle of palm wine, in the center of the table. She is nearly impossible to buy in the US and was a souvenir from her recent visit to Nigeria. As guests sighed with satisfaction as they sipped miniature glasses, Balogun kicked things off with his version of Nigerian pepper soup, using a sea bream base rather than the traditional came Asaro: To a porridge of sweet white yams, tomatoes, red bells, habanero chili and onions, Balogun added smoked shrimp and crawfish. The main event of the meal was ground yam and aegushi soup, another staple of Nigerian home cooking. The two are usually served on separate plates, but Balogun recommends egushi, which is stewed with ground melon seeds, spinach, chicken or beef stock, ground crawfish, onions and green peppers, served with pounded yams. Because it was poured on top, it became a dish that required both forks. and a spoon. (Nigerians typically eat this with their hands, rolling up small balls of yams, indenting them with their thumbs, and pouring a little broth over them.) For dessert, dodo (fried plantains) served with vanilla ice cream, Balogun’s childhood favorite.

After eating, Olpona was happy to see the table full of used plates and crumpled napkins. “Generally, I worry when things are too orderly at the end of a party,” she says. “I want chaos! Empty food trays, empty cups all over the place and people are addicted to joy.” Then I walked up Nostrand Street a few blocks to Paul’s. Paul’s is a neighborhood bar that Olpona appreciates for its “low-key, unpretentious” atmosphere. . Below are her tips for entertaining with Nigerian flair.

“Nigerian cuisine is very hands-on, so I like to order catering when I host from home,” says Orpona. For larger groups, her go-to is Divine Her Flavors, a mobile African kitchen based in New York and Philadelphia. “If you want to drink, go to Astor Wines. They help you curate a nice wine list within your budget.”

“The company is the most important factor,” says Orpona. “I’m always thinking about characters, existing relationships, or people I want to foster deeper connections with.” entertained the rest of the table with their opinions on the style of the narrative of the word.

A restaurant may provide glassware and utensils, but that doesn’t preclude a personal touch. Orpona decorated the Ministry of Culture’s table with multi-patterned indigo cloth and bright yellow napkins from her home collection to match the paper menu she designed for the occasion.

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