Yinka Odukoya, madam Yinx as I fondly call her is a beautiful soul who’s passion for creating interesting dishes infused with the West African culture led her to join forces with her business partner and together they gave birth to Faaji.
For more information about Yinka, check out her social media links at the end of this interview.
Tell us about Faaji
Faaji comes off the brand of my personal catering company Yinx Tasty. I was speaking to my business partner one day and she was telling me to bring back my Yinx Tasty food festival, after going back and forth I eventually asked my business partner Frances to come on board as she has branding and marketing experience. Right there in the car, the concept of faaji was born.
The vision of the team is to create a space for faaji which just means enjoyment. A way of celebrating West African culture and giving back to the community in the diaspora by creating a lively hub where they can network and have a good time.
The long term view is to open up my own restaurant that does fusion Nigerian food where I can really explore different palates.
What inspired you to get into culinary?
Since I was 7years old I’ve always known I wanted to be a chef. At that time, my mum was in hospital after she had my little sister and I would have to cook for my brother and I. My mum would call to give me instructions over the phone and when she would taste it she would say it was great and advise me how to make it better.
I was also always surrounded by aunties who loved to bake so I was always helping.
That’s when I said to myself ‘Yup, this food thing I’m on it!’
The African culinary industry is on the rise, was it hard finding your voice in that market? How did you manage to stand out?
When I first started with Yinx Tasty in 2013 I didn’t feel like there were that many African chefs trying to push the envelope. You had your restaurants like Eko and 805 but no one really doing fusion African food.
Beyond that, I feel like I stand out because my reasons for starting were genuine so my passion for food keeps me devoted. I also abide by the belief that God didn’t bless our hands equally, someone else may be given the same ingredients as me but they will never be able to create something that’s identical to mine.
When did you know the Faaji brand really took off?
I had spent 5 years doing Yinx Tasty and nothing felt like it was booming the way I wanted it to, but I left everything to God’s timing.
At one of the faaji events I rallied friends and family as you do but I didn’t know God was about to bless me. We sold over 250 tickets and I remember sitting in the corner just watching people eating, being merry and I just started to cry and tell God how good he is.
What is the hardest and most challenging thing about what you do?
It has to be finding a venue as a young black woman. People are always reluctant because they fear it may be a rave or something that will get out of hand.
How do you cope with the expectations and opinion of others?
I’ve been doing this for a while so I’ve learnt to deal with customers and also not to take things to personal.
We have now set a standard for the event which is one of the reasons we have secret locations. This way it’s easy for us to gage how much food to provide, have an element of crowd control and ensure that everyone can have a good time.
As someone of faith, have there been moments when you clearly saw God open doors for you?
We sell out every single event and I cannot help but believe that it was God’s doing.
What do you love most about everything you do?
It gingers my heart seeing people eat my food and give me feedback or ask for the recipe. Most especially because I experiment a lot, for example at the last event I made Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup with Shitto; I had to go around and ask people to try it because I know we African’s don’t eat soup unless its pepper soup lol.
My passion is trying to change our perception on fusion African food and helping to broaden our palates.
Top 3 skills you use most as a business owner/chef
As a business owner, you need patience, tenacity and consistency. As a chef you need to learn patience, you have to be able to work under pressure because the kitchen gets hectic and also having a good palate because you have to taste everything!
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Don’t be in a haste to leave your 9-5 especially if it’s funding your business. Unless your business can turn a big enough profit that would pay your bills etc., don’t be in a rush to leave your job.
Any entrepreneurial journey tips for readers
Have no pride! Always be ready and willing to learn from others so you can grow.
What do you want the lasting impact of your brand to be?
For my personal brand, I want young black women to look at me and think if she can do it, I can do it too. I want to be relatable to young black women who come from African households who were told they could only be doctors or lawyers.
I love working with people and I just want to be able to give back.
Bonus question: was this your first business?
No, I started with Yinx Tasty which I still use for my personal catering services outside of Faaji.