The Next Era of American Fine Dining Is Here, Care of West Africa

At Dept of Culture, a soft white cheese called wara comes plated with stew — blended and cooked tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions, spiced like many Nigerians prefer it. Wara can be found in the north and north-central areas of Nigeria, the latter of which is the region veteran chef Ayo Balogun hails from. He opened the buzzy 15-seat Brooklyn restaurant, one of Eater’s Best New Restaurants of 2022, after winning the city over with a dinner series called Iya Eba in the late summer of 2020.

“I spent a week in Lagos with my uncle and one night he took me around. We went to Ikoyi Club, we went to eat at a place called Iya Eba,” Balogun says. “So, [that night] we went from some posh place to some dive place to some place under the bridge, it was just some wild night. And I’ve been chasing that ever since then. I want to create that sort of night.”

While the combination of Lagos’s high-end and everyday eateries inspired Balogun’s vision for Dept of Culture, it is ultimately, the chef’s north-central state of Kwara that underscores the cuisine at the restaurant, and is at the heart of the food he serves in dishes such as gbegiri soup, made from locust beans, often eaten alongside ewedu soup — a staple among Yoruba ethnic group regardless of region, made with jute leaves as its base — plus eba or àmàlà (the latter from unripe plantain flour).


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