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Interview Fri Nov 21 2014

Free 3-Course Dinner at Bolat African Cuisine

IMG_20141119_181704.jpgIn honor of the holidays, Bolat African Cuisine, a sub-Saharan restaurant in Lakeview, is hosting a dinner giveaway every Wednesday through December 24. Bolat will provide a standard, three-course dinner to the first 20 people who make a reservation. Though subject to change, the prix fixe menu includes Cilantro Veggie Soup with Honey Bread, Caramelized Jerk Wings with Jollof Rice, and Coconut Tabu. I had an opportunity to chat with Chef Emmanuel Abidemi, owner and chef of Bolat, about his dinner giveaway.

African cuisine is still fairly unfamiliar to the American palette, though it's gaining headway. How do you define Sub-Saharan African cuisine? What makes it special?

Sub-Sahara cuisine can be defined by the spices, as well as typical staples that are shared amongst all countries within the region. West Africa is known for their use of spicy peppers, however Eastern and Southern Africa are less known for these ingredients. Similarities between the West and South include the plating and cooking styles, as well as the specific grains used in dishes, however, West African dishes tend to use more spices. In east Africa, the food has large Indian and Mediterranean influence in terms spices and grains used, but they also share the same affinity for spices as a result of our colonial past.

What does "Bolat" mean?

Bolat is an acronym formed from our family name, and it is also the name of a former hotel established in Lagos, by my grandmother.

IMG_20141119_174458.jpgHow have Chicago diners reacted to Bolat

Actually, Bolat is our first business and Iyanze is an extension of Bolat. The first measure of success we experienced was at Bolat and we were able to parlay that success into something bigger, Iyanze. After Iyanze opened, we attempted to elevate the experience at Bolat to casual fine dining and the customer reaction has been a very learning experience for ourselves and for those who have dined with us. We are the first African restaurant attempting to truly modernize the African dining experience, with the exception of Ethiopian dining. The experience has been quite fun and sobering at the same time. But never the less very worth while.

You are a self-taught cook. Who did you learn from and how did cooking become your interest?

Our main family business is hospitality, which was what we did in Nigeria, so it's only natural that we continue this in our new home. I started assisting my mother in the kitchen as early as age 13 and it seems that I have never left the kitchen since. I was always amazed and inspired at how she could combine so many varying ingredients with different textures, taste, and aroma into a single dish with a single character, taste and pure deliciousness. So now I'm attempting to do the same.

How did you come up with the concept for the dinner giveaway?

The dinner giveaway idea came about for three reasons.
1. This is just an extension of the African lifestyle. By nature Africans are very communal and food is one of those items that is usually shared communally without question or requirement.
2. I believe that food is the most interesting window into any culture, so when we give someone an opportunity to take a view into our world, hopefully we can start a lifelong journey of exploration in African culture. This can lead to better understanding of Africans, and our culture.
3. It's the holiday season, and the best time to give to those who might want, but are not fortunate enough to afford a proper 3 course meal. Also, it gives the opportunity for someone who has always wanted to taste the food, but has been hesitant for one reason or another, to try the cuisine. We are willing to open our door and ask no commitment in return, just an open palette and a hungry belly. To give is to Love.

How did you come up with your menu? What's your favorite dish?

The menu is a selection of items that I have love affairs with. These are all items I am passionate about cooking, talking about, or am just inspired by. Some items are based on family recipes, and other items such as the lemon grass salmon and couscous, came from personal recipe development, and a desire to elevate our offering to a wide audience.

How did you come up with your menu? What's your favorite dish?

The menu is a selection of items that I have love affairs with. These are all items I am passionate about cooking, talking about, or am just inspired by. Some items are based on family recipes, and other items such as the lemon grass salmon and couscous, came from personal recipe development, and a desire to elevate our offering to a wide audience.

Bolat African Cuisine
3346 N. Clark St.
773-665-1100

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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