A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to tour a couple of Toronto chefs around Buffalo, who left with completely new views of this city. In a city such as Toronto, where you basically live in a small apartment and need big backers in order to open a restaurant, Buffalo is an appealing place when it comes to business. They were amazed at the progress that this city was making, yet at the same time they couldn’t help but look around and see the needs. To them, an empty storefront was a chance to not only open shop, but to be a part of the resurgence of a city. It was cool to see Buffalo through their eyes, as a land of opportunities.
Yesterday I had a similar experience with a chef from Detroit named Tunde Wey who happens to be traveling from city to city in search of places to set up his pop-up shop concept called “Lagos” – named after his birthplace in Nigeria. The concept of Lagos came about when Tunde sold the shares of his Detroit restaurant (called Revolver) to his business partner. Instead of jumping right back into the traditional restaurant industry, Tunde decided that he wanted to explore other cities, share his culinary offerings, and meet people along the way.
Tunde started his adventure by hitching a ride with a friend to New Orleans. It was there that he cooked for 40 people, whipping up a blend of Yoruba and Igbo cooking styles. The feast was a hit, and soon Tunde found himself heading to Chicago where he cooked for two nights – once at a friend’s house and then as a guest chef at a restaurant. Tunde then headed back to Detroit, conducted a pop-up restaurant, and laid plans where to go next. “I had been hearing a lot about Buffalo, and all of the new energy that was there,” Tunde told me. “At the same time, it was the only city that I did not know a single person. So I tried Couchsurfing and came up flat. Then I tried Air B&B and missed out on an opportunity. Eventually I decided that I was going to stay at the hostile in Downtown Buffalo.”
It was the concept of his former restaurant, Revolver, that first planted the traveling seed in Tunde’s head. Revolver was only open on Fridays and Saturdays, and featured different chefs whenever it was open. This type of open platform introduced Tunde to a lot of chefs and a lot of different styles of cooking. That’s why, for Tunde, the thought of traveling and cooking on the fly is not so unfamiliar.
Although Tunde reached out to a number of people in Buffalo before he set out on his journey to this city, it was foodie Christa Glennie Seychew who suggested that Martin Cooks might be the perfect spot for him to set up (especially since the restaurant had recently done something similar with the Toronto chefs). Fortunately, Martin agreed to host the chef and Tunde is slated to introduce his style of cooking tomorrow night (see Facebook event).
In order to get a better feel for Buffalo, Tunde is staying here for upwards of a week. In that time he is checking out the different areas of the city and some of the eateries along the way. Yesterday we started off with brunch at Oshun (their first brunch it turns out), where we indulged in a variety of cocktails ranging from Mezcal Bloody Marias to oyster shooters. Tunde and I split the Breakfast Clams dish which was made with scrambled eggs, fried clam strips, bacon sauce, cheddar cheese and pepper jelly. It was one of the more unusual brunch dishes that I had ever tried, and I’m happy to report that I will be heading back that way to have it again, as long as it remains on the menu.
Our second stop was to Ballyhoo where we watched the Bills game, ordered a few beers and watched Tunde as he became chummy with owner, Tim Stevens, and chef, Nate Root. Before long, Nate was showing Tunde around the kitchen, as the two discussed cooking styles and menu concepts. It was pretty cool to see Tunde gravitating to the Buffalo way of life. Before we left Ballyhoo, Tunde tried one of Nate’s tremendous sausage concoctions. By the time he was finished, we all felt happy that Downtown Buffalo, on a Sunday, had treated him right (none of these place were even open last year).
Our last stop was 716 Food and Sport at Harbor Center. We felt that we should show Tunde a bit of the “glitz and the glam” that had recently opened at the waterfront, and to tell the truth, we were with some Buffalo folks who had not paid a visit themselves and were interested to see what all of the hoopla was about. Of course everyone was mesmerized by the ginormous TV screen, not to mention the size and scope of the place. One and done at 716 – we were all feeling a tad tired at that point, so we made our way out of the sports viewing complex and meandered home.
On the way home, I asked Tunde about his story… how he came to Detroit and learned to cook. “My aunt was living there, so that’s where I went to school. I learned to cook from my aunt, my brother and YouTube videos. I knew what the food was supposed to taste like, so I kept cooking until I got it right. Detroit turned out to be perfect for what I wanted to do because it was cheap. As far as traveling, I have found that the hardest part is the finances. In order to make it work, my friend told me that there is a formula that I must stick to. If I sell 30 seats at a person’s home, then I must use 1/3 of that money for food costs, 1/3 for travel to my next destination (and board), and then save 1/3 for a rainy day. The problem is the last third… I find myself coming to places like Buffalo and I want to eat and drink and learn about the city, which can eat away at the savings. Other than that, I am very happy with the way this is all turning out, and can’t wait to cook tomorrow at Martin Cooks. Buffalo is a very warm and welcoming city. I was told to buy snow boots before coming here, but there’s no snow so I’m glad that I didn’t listen to them.”
After Buffalo, Tunde is heading to Brooklyn, and from there he has not quite figured out his next plan of action. That’s a pretty cool way to live your life… one city at a time, making good friends along the way.