Wednesday, 25 November 2015

African Food & Drink: Patti Sloley - The Best Kept Secret of Ghanaian Cuisine

Lyssiemay Annoh chats to Ghanaian Chef, Author and Tutor Patti Sloley

Patti Sloley was born, raised and educated in Ghana; the Land of many bountiful resources; gold, oil, diamond, bauxite (aluminium), timber, lush forests, beautiful people, rich culture and good food. Ghana has abundant seafood because of its coastal location and good game and wildlife from hinterland.  Fruits and vegetables are always fresh. 

Patti has spent the last 23 years living with her family in the UK and is Ghana’s best export in the food and drink sector.  She works as Front of House and a resident Chef at the Novelli Academy and runs an African dining course titled ‘A Plate in the Sun’ at the Academy.
Jean-Christophe Novelli’s Queen of Spice and culinary spiritual sister is something special.  Putting aside her youthful refreshing looks and excellent physique, Patti is definitely getting something right with her Ghanaian cuisine.   Like most African cuisine, Ghanaian cuisine is very varied and tasty.  The choices are endless and sometimes challenging to prepare by the non-Ghanaian because of all the fuss created by tradition during preparation.

 A Ghanaian with true spirit, Patti makes this challenge achievable through preparation alongside her unique way of teaching at the African dining course she provides at the Academy.  Her enthusiasm is hard to beat! She is passionate about the things she loves and is clearly on a mission to introduce the world to her truly delicious Ghanaian and indeed African cuisine through her fusion-inspired cookbooks ‘A Plate in the Sun’ and ‘A Date with Plantain’.

Patti sees food as a great communicator that can bring diversity and enjoyment to your table.  Her bubbly personality adds a fun factor to cooking and her creative style shows African foods in a light you may not have seen before.  I was keen to find out more when I caught up with the Chef making waves with Ghanaian cuisine in the UK.

How did it all start?
I've always loved good food but never imagined that I would express it this way.  Halfway through writing my first cookbook 'A Plate in the Sun,' I met a charming lady in a nail bar. In conversation I mentioned I was writing a cookbook. She happened to be Jean-Christophe Novelli's fiancĂ©e, Michelle, and that's how my work with the Novelli Academy in Hertfordshire began.  They say 'Life, is what happens to you when you're busy making plans'.  Perhaps it was meant to be and I feel very lucky to be able to express my passion for food.

What inspires you most about cooking?
Eating! My earliest inspiration comes from my mum's fantastic home-cooking. I'm inspired by the adventure in flavours, inviting aromas, experimenting with new ingredients, creating and innovating.  I love seeing the happiness on people's faces when they enjoy my cooking and want the recipe.

What's the secret behind the delicate Ghanaian dishes that you create?
There's no secret really. Cooking, I believe, is a form of art and food is all about the senses. I've always enjoyed fashion and interior decor and feel that I'm able to draw on these when it comes to creating and presenting my dishes.

How does Ghanaian cuisine compete with other international cuisines?
Call me biased, but Ghanaian cuisine for me is probably one of the culinary world's best kept secrets. I have often been asked to describe it in three words and it's always flavour, flavour, flavour. With our great combination of ingredients and aromatic spices, it's exciting to see the interest it's generating and I'm delighted that it's finally starting to get the recognition it deserves.

Would you say that anyone who reads one your cookbooks can successfully create a beautiful Ghanaian dish?

I'm thrilled at the number of people who have cooked dishes from both books and have proudly commented or posted pictures about of their efforts on Facebook.  I use readily available ingredients and the recipes are easy to follow. Whether you're vegan, vegetarian, meat-eating or gluten-free, there's something for everyone. Some of my dishes are becoming part of their weekly repertoire and that excites me.

What is your favourite past-time?
This is a difficult one as I have lots of interests. I enjoy a great laugh with friends and family around a table with good food of course, before or after a good movie.

If you had to do it all again, what would you change?
Change? I don't think I'd change anything. I'm loving what I do and feel lucky to be able to indulge my passion.

What's your favourite destination?
I love going home to Ghana, for the glorious sun and spending precious time with family and friends, but outside Ghana, I have to say Manhattan. It has a buzz and energy I love.

Try these two recipes below and follow Patti @PattiSloley She enjoys demonstrating at food festivals and shares her exciting menus at exclusive private dinners and pop-up suppers in a local Harpenden wine cellar.  She regularly uses African ingredients and has the cultural credibility and skills to speak with authority on her recipes and techniques. She is lively with a pleasant personality, very enthusiastic and passionate about the things she loves.  A Ghanaian with a truly international perspective.
Agushi - Palaver Sauce
Another classic West African dish, based on ground melon seeds and spinach, it is typically cooked with palm fruit oil although vegetable oil works equally well. In Ghana it’s also known as aketsua frowee or palaver sauce (palaver - a West African word for trouble - because of the arguments over how to cook it). I like to use both breasts and stewing lamb. I occasionally use other meats and with fish I use firm white varieties like cassava fish or monkfish with smoked or salted fish to add depth. Agushi is a delicious eating experience and I’m sure, like Oliver Twist, you will ask for more.

Serves 4 – 6
700g/24oz lamb breasts, chopped
700g/24oz stewing lamb, bone-in, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2cm/1 inch ginger, sliced
1 scotch bonnet chilli, pierced
4 guinea peppers, optional
salt to season
small handful of basil or thyme
1ltr/36floz Maa’s Tomato Sauce (page 33)
200g/7oz agushi (ground melon seeds)
600g/21oz baby or chopped spinach

1. Place all the ingredients, except the Maa’s Tomato Sauce, agushi and spinach into a saucepan. Stir, cover and leave to simmer and steam in its own juices until the juices run clear. 

2. Add enough water to just cover the meat and form a stock, bring to the boil, and skim any froth that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat and simmer until the meat is tender and the stock reduced. Remove from the heat.   

3. Simmer the Maa’s Tomato Sauce in a large pan. Sprinkle in the agushi, stirring until the texture resembles fine scrambled eggs.

4. Add the meat and stock and stir in the spinach. Gently simmer until the spinach has wilted and combined.

Stuffed Medjool Dates
Serves 4
½ plantain - ripe - yellow skin
12 medjool dates
50g/2oz cream cheese

1. Cut off and discard the plantain ends. Slice in half crossways and then lengthways. Discard the skin. Steam for 5-8 minutes and allow to cool.
2. Slice the dates lengthways to make room for the filling. Be sure not to cut right through. Discard the stone.
3. Mash the plantain and mix in the cream cheese.
4. Stuff each date with some of the mix and gently squeeze the date back to almost its original shape.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Great Names Behind Hotels – A Designer’s Perspective

One-on-One with Jan Wilson, Founder and Owner of RPW Design

You walk into a beautiful luxury hotel and you are greeted by a well-appointed lobby, check into your room and are so delighted by the way it has been set up and above-all, how functional it is.  What do you do next?  Evidently, you begin to wonder about the person who created something so alluring and want to know more.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Jan Wilson a great name behind hotels.  Australian born Jan Wilson founded RPW Design to do what she loves best – creating beautiful interiors for luxury hotels. Jan is widely recognised as an innovative designer with a unique understanding of the operational and commercial issues fundamental to client satisfaction and the successful outcome of any design project.  She has been pivotal to RPW’s Development and collaborated with some of the big names in the industry to create a variety of projects of great artistic and historic value.

Jan’s RPW Design counts some of the World’s most luxurious hotels among their clients.  They include the Dorchester, Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental, JW Marriott, Kempinski, Fairmont Raffles, Ritz Carlton, Okura, Waldorf Astoria, and InterContinental among many other luxury brands. 

For Jan, it is all about property owners giving her pleasure of using their money to improve their assets.  The objective is to add-value and enjoy the process while doing so.

Jan has travelled the world and worked on a variety of projects which have all turned out to be very successful. She likes hotel rooms so much so that she designed a whole suite for herself.  I have to say that even using the loo at Jan’s is an experience!

How did it all start?
I trained and qualified as an architect in Australia in 1976, got married a year after and then moved to London to take my career to the next level.  After ten years working with one of the big names in the hospitality and design business, RPW Design was born.

What makes a good designer?
Any designer who has taste knows how to ask the right questions and by asking the right questions you can understand what the client is hoping to achieve.  The ethos is to ask the intelligent questions and have a prominent eye for detail.  You have to understand the people you are working for and their guests.  You should also not confuse impressing people with real comfort.

A good designer will also collaborate well with other design specialists such as lighting and security for example to achieve their goal.  They must also know who to call on to assist with a project.

What are some of the things that you consider when designing a hotel?

For me, the locality is very important.  The hotel has to reflect its location.  I like someone who understands the locality to be involved in the room design.  I like to meet the local craftsmen, artists, visit the local markets to get a feel of the location and select beautiful artefacts.

I especially want to be surprised when I walk into a hotel.  Whenever I walk into a hotel, it is always the visionary memory that has delighted me.  I believe that the visual memory should be particular, I would like to think that everyone who stayed in a hotel that I designed would come back to request or inquire about my work.

And for hotel bedrooms?
We design rooms to increase room rates.  Guests who stay in hotel rooms do not want to be frustrated during their stay.  We sit with the client to understand what they want to achieve and then advise them on how to achieve their vision.

Some cultures only want to impress.  However, travelling is hard work so simplicity must come before comfort.  Today’s luxury is not about space but volume.  First things guests do when they arrive in a room is walk to the window.  Switches need to be in the right place; corridors must not be noisy, there should be mobile phone charging stations by the bed for example. 

Would you say that a beautiful design is the answer to any hotelier’s business dream?
No.  However beautiful the design concept, I would say that service is key.  Guests are immediately awed with the opulent design when they walk into a hotel and naturally expect the same quality of service to follow and quite right too.  Take the Claridges model for example, the hotel exudes grandeur and service is paramount.  An excellent service must always be delivered to compliment a beautiful design, right acoustics, good smell and feeling.  Everything they do at the Claridges has the same goal of excellence; from how you are received, to attention to detail.  Great service comes naturally, you do not have to ask for it.
What would you say is the perfect hotel lobby?
It all depends on the hotel and its operations however, I would say the Oberoi Mauritius with its warm “meet and greet” on arrival without the infrastructure sets a good example.

Who buys the artworks and ornaments?
I buy most of the pieces to make sure that they are different from competitors. I search for interesting pieces and propose them to my clients.  Usually they like them.

What is your favourite destination?
London makes a great destination but I like Mauritius.

What keeps you motivated?
I have got the most exciting job in the world.  My clients give me an opportunity to enjoy my hobby.  They give me the pleasure of using their money to improve their assets. 

I have a job where I can work with creative people and when people like my work, it is my satisfaction.