The Taste of Tomorrow

  • Prince Charles meets modern African food.

    It’s highly satisfying to be proved right, especially in the face of nattering nabobs of negativism who ridicule you for being nuts and suggest that you are irresponsible, or possibly stoned.  I’m not saying that I am, for sure, right, but there’s some encouraging evidence in support of my African Inevitability Thesis.

    A few weeks ago, I wrote this piece for the Wall Street Journal, a radically summarized version of my argument in the book that Americans will be eating more foods and flavors from sub-Saharan Africa in the future.  I wrote:

    Get ready for a Nigerian P.F. Chang’s and Lean Cuisine Lamb Yassa. Prepare to find the foods of sub-Saharan Africa in your strip malls and Safeways. It’s inevitable.

    A common reaction to my African Food Inevitability Thesis has been a furrowed brow, a scoff, or a “no effing way.”  To date, my retort to the doubters has been “WAIT,” and then I remind them of the time-stamp on my prognostication —2035 —and then I start trying to explain the dynamics behind my prediction.

    Over the past weeks, however, I have found some encouraging evidence that suggests I might be right sooner.

    Visitors to my home over the past month have tasted such evidence — grilled chicken marinated in a lemon piri piri sauce, scrambled eggs turbo-charged with a curried egusi sauce, pasta topped with African chili coconut relish.  I’ve discovered the joys of french fries dipped in African ketchup. For our July 4th barbecue,  we’ll start with a mesclun salad mix, spiced with sea salt, olive oil, and a pepper mix that’s flavored with alligator pepper, cubeb, and Ethiopian pepper. And for our main course, we’ll have baby back ribs bathed in a smoky baobab barbecue sauce.

    Yes, that’s baobab barbecue sauce— baobab, the signature tree of sub-Saharan Africa.

    I have not gone on some rare binge of culinary productivity; all of these sauces are ready-made, available in a jar, from a store.

    Unfortunately, that store was not Dominick’s or a Whole Foods here in the Chicago area.  And none of the more adventurous foodie stores — like Williams-Sonoma, or even Zingerman’s or Corti Brothers — offer it.  In fact, you can’t get the sublime African chickpea melon seed anywhere in the United States. To get my fix, I had to wait a week for a package to arrive from London.

    It’s not at all surprising that a baobab-enhanced jam or  curry with egusi is coming from a London-based food maker.  The home of Big Ben and Wimbledon is home to the largest African expat community in the world —there’s a “Little Lagos,” a huge Ghanaian community, tens of thousands of Londoners call Jo’burg and Cape Town home.  There’s regional Nigerian food in London, rankings of South African restaurants.    And it makes perfect sense that London — one of the foodie cities of the moment, home of Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay, and tons of culinary adventurers — would be one of the birthplaces of “African fusion” cuisine.

    But James “Bim” Adedeji is an unlikely candidate for the role of Rick Bayless or Wolfgang Puck of sub-Saharan African food.

    He’s not a restauranteur, culinary school grad, he never worked in a kitchen or food service of any kind. The idea for his Bim’s Kitchen —quite possibly the first African fusion specialist in the world— came while he was working at the United Kingdom’s Department of Health.

    Not only did I have the pleasure of trying some of Bim’s most popular sauces – which are now available at more than 40 stores and markets throughout the UK— I also had a chance to learn about how a civil servant, who spent his teenage years in Nigeria, became committed to introducing Brits to the flavors of sub-Saharan Africa.  James (“Bim” is his Nigerian name) has an approach that mark him as unusual in the UK’s African burgeoning food scene — Bim’s Kitchen is not about authenticity.  As James points out, it’s not about “replicating Grandma’s long lost recipes.” James and his wife, Nicola, create versions of familiar favorites — barbecue sauces, curry sauces, ketchup —drawing from a palette of African flavors.

    Next week, in the T of T’s Second Podcast Ever, we will talk with one of the pioneers of  modern African-inspired cuisine — we’ll hear Bim’s story, talk about the African food scene in London, learn about the candidates for African Gateway Dish (the dish that could be the Pad Thai of  African cuisine), get a sense of what’s happening in restaurants in sub-Saharan Africa. And…. we’ll hear about why James “Bim” Adedeji agrees enthusiastically with The African Food Inevitability Thesis.

    Meantime, to get ready for the talk, here are five of Bim’s core spices for sub-Saharan Cuisine, as featured in a British food magazine.

    Alligator Pepper.   Sometimes known as mbongo spice, and a close relative of grains of paradise, it’s a key ingredient of West African food. The Igbo Spices site describes alligator pepper “as having a pungent, spicy taste with hazelnut, butter and citrus.”

    Cubeb. A close relative of black pepper, sometimes called “tailed pepper,” it’s commonly grown in marshy areas throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Taste: slightly hot, fruity, with hints of cinnamon.  (Part of the reason, we’re not eating more cubeb — the Portuguese. In 1600s, the Portuguese prohibited its sale because they were promoting black pepper.)

    Birds Eye Chili. You can also find this spicy chili pepper in Southeast Asian and South Indian cuisine It’s the defining ingredient in piri piri aka pilli pilli aka peri peri (which we’ll learn about in our talk with Bim)

    Hibiscus Flower. Hibiscus, often used in the UK and US in team, is an important ingredient in African cuisines.   In Senegal and other West African cuisines, flowers from a type of hibiscus plant are used to make a pleasant tart-sweet beverage (sometimes called bissap, roselle, or red sorrel). But West Africans don’t only use it for drinking — sometimes the leaves are not uses, it’s just extracted for color.

    More coming.

  • Dear Slate Readers:

    If you’ve heard about  The Taste of Tomorrow  for the first time today, or if you’ve devoured the book—and you’re curious, interested in more conversation and information about foods and food-making technologies of the future — sign up for The Taste of Tomorrow’s email newsletterYou can also like us on Facebook.


    The Editors



    There was a nice spike of interest in the The Taste of Tomorrow from middle of April to early May of 2012…

    Here’s a very nice review in the Tof T’s hometown paper — the Chicago Tribune — by Bill Daley, one of the best food and wine writers around.  Here is Bill’s  Future Food.  (Also, fyi.  I am very excited to be participating in a panel discussion moderated by Bill at the Printer’s Row Book Fair on June 10.)

    Here’s an

    excellent piece in Maclean’s (think the Time or Newsweek of Canada) that uses the TofT as the opening to an exploration of trends and technologies that could shape the foods of the future.  Kate Lunau’s story “What You’ll Be Eating Soon” was — much to our delight —the cover!

    Earlier in April, the Wall Street Journal’s weekend edition published “Next Stop for Food Fanatics: Africa.” Recommendation:  do not read this article  until after you have read Chapters 15 – 17 of The Taste of Tomorrow.  

    And finally, the AP’s Jessica Gresko reviewed the book.  Here’s the review from ABC News. More stories will be posted soon!

  • The Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley  — that’s the esteemed, frequently bluntly critical, Pulitzer Prize-winning Jonathan Yardley — likes The Taste of Tomorrow!

    Read Yardley’s nice review in last weekend’s Book World. (And yes, as was conceded on the TofT Facebook page,  getting a nice word from Yardley is creating a Christmas/Hannukah/Packers-win-Super Bowl-type of vibe here at ToT’s Evanston headquarters.

    Also….admittedly, a thought did occur: that on Sunday, April 22, the residents of a large White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,  may have possibly leafed through the WP’s Book World, and possibly noticed the words “Chicago journalist,” and then possibly talked about how this “future of food book” may have some ideas for, say, the garden, and then, perhaps, this all culminated in the following exchange:

    Michelle:  “Maybe we should invite this guy for dinner?

    Barack: “Great idea.”

  • If you still haven’t had a chance to make it out for that lunch time excursion to B&N or Books & Books or the Seminary Coop to buy three copies of The Taste of Tomorrow,  if you still haven’t made those four to five  clicks necessary to achieve nonfiction nirvana, then we hope you’ll take a look at “Feasts Forward,”  a nice review in the Financial Times. 

    The subhead, “a lighthearted look into the future of food,” is undeniably true.  And the reviewer, Carl Wilkinson, does a nice job of describing the “salad” section of the book in one brilliantly succinct sentence.

  • Dear Friends:

    At last!

    Please leave your office, abandon your to-do list, and run — don’t walk — to the nearest bookstore to purchase three copies of The Taste of Tomorrow for yourself and two friends!

    And if you don’t have access to a bookstore,  then go ahead, close that Word document, and head over to B&N or and buy some copies of The Taste of Tomorrow.  It’s a perfect Easter, Passover, or May Day gift!

    Seriously, thanks for all your support and patience.  We look forward to getting your feedback.

    Also, The Taste of Tomorrow: The Magazine looks forward to keeping you up to date on the people, ideas, and technologies profiled in the book.  The book took three years to complete, and there are plenty of updates to provide on people in the book.