WORDS to EAT by: Clandestine Matters

‘Mama T. We are ready to go in’.

‘Copy. Remember. No one gets hurt. In and out. Get it. Leave.’

Did I just say copy? Am I holding a walkie talkie while sitting in my car at 1am? Am I actually having a conversation with a 6-foot 5 inch tall 150kg mountain of a man called Shine Shine Bobo? On a mission?

This is not me. However, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Let me take you back.

It all started a few weeks ago.

I work for a brand agency. It is not a large agency, but we are doing so well that we are a force to be reckoned with in the industry. I handle the most high-profile clients of the agency and I am proud to say I have developed and executed marketing and public relations campaigns that feature the most popular influencers in the country. When Lolu – the owner of the agency called me into her office one morning, I thought it was business as usual. I was wrong. Lolu told me she was taking a sabbatical from the agency. To travel the world and tick things off her bucket list. She planned to hand the agency over to me to run and offered me a 20% stake in the company. To say I was stunned is putting it lightly. Before I had a chance to say anything, she gave me a condition.

Lolu said I had to pull off a one-of-a-kind campaign for our newest client. This client gave us a blank check and the freedom to create. All she wanted was a show stopping campaign. Lolu told me if I delivered on this brief, the agency was all mine – in a manner of speaking.

This was an opportunity of a lifetime and I spent days and nights fleshing out ideas and concepts. Nothing seemed big enough. I would have starved if my neighbour – an elderly widow I called Aunty did not come around with a bowl of jollof rice every evening. Not just any jollof rice. Aunty’s jollof rice is life changing. Smoky not too spicy rice, cooked in a rich tomato sauce that is to die for. I am no cook but I have asked Aunty to show me how to make her jollof rice, but my attempts are not even close. Aunty told me the recipe is one that has been in her family for generations, and she finally decided to write it down in a recipe book she keeps in her bedroom.

One morning after a long night thinking about ideas for the life changing campaign with no progress, I packed some of Aunty’s jollof rice for lunch and headed into the office. I stopped at a new café to get some coffee and that is when I saw him. Nigerian superstar and Grammy winner Koledade. He was seated at a table in the corner wearing a hoodie, but I knew it was him. Taking a deep breath, I walked over to his table and took a seat. I introduced myself and I admit he looked startled. I wasted no time reassuring him I was not a stalker. I told him I had an amazing business opportunity for him, told him a little about my agency and my blank check client and suggested a meeting in the office to talk some more. He said he had time on his hands and could follow me to the office immediately.

There are no words to express the high I was on when I walked into Lolu’s office with Koledade in tow. I did not have a clear strategy, but I was sure that having Koledade attached to our agency was a coup. What I thought would be a brief chat turned into a full pitch meeting with Koledade calling his manager to meet us at our office. While we waited for his manager to join us, I high tailed it to the lunchroom to sneak a few spoonful’s of my lunch.

‘That smells really good’. I whipped around so suddenly, that I almost dropped the plate. Koledade smiled and said ‘I am sorry if I startled you. Whatever that is, it smells really good.’ ‘Just my lunch’ I said. ‘When I am hungry, I can barely function’. ‘I can relate’. He said. ‘Seriously, that smells really good’. I grabbed an extra fork and said ’would you like to join me? There is more than enough here’.

He pulled up a chair and took the first forkful. His eyes widened and he said ‘This is the most delicious jollof rice I have had in my life. You are an amazing cook. Goodness’. ‘Thank you’ I said. What was I supposed to say? That I did not make it? A little wisp of a lie. I did not give it a second thought. Until…

We were all back in Lolu’s office. Lolu and Koledade’s manager had been negotiating fees for the past hour with not much progress made. Koledade was busy on his phone doing goodness knows what and suddenly stood up. ‘Final offer. Xxx million naira with her as project lead’. He smiled in my direction. Lolu jumped in quickly saying ‘Done’. Koledade said ‘An extra condition. Everyone on my team must taste that jollof rice before we sign the contract. Let us call it my superstar demand. We sign in a week.’

We shook hands and Koledade and his team left. Lolu smiled at me and said ‘Congratulations. It looks like I get to call you my partner now. Well done.’

I was over the moon. I saw an opportunity and I seized it. I was going to be a partner at 30. The jollof rice condition was a non-issue. I planned to ask Aunty very nicely and even offer to pay her to have a party sized amount in time for the contract to be signed. When I got home, I called Aunty.

‘Good evening ma. How are you?’

‘I am fine. Very fine. It is good you are calling me. I left in such a hurry; I did not call you like I planned to’

Left? I sat up straight.

‘Where are you Aunty?’

‘I am on my way to Port Harcourt. My daughter had her baby this morning. Earlier than expected but she and the baby are fine. I am going to be with her family for at least 2 months so my niece and her friend from university will stay in my apartment until I return. God be praised.’

Aunty hung up before I could say anything else. This was not happening. No way.

This is why I am here. At this hour. Why I am sitting in my car waiting for Shine Shine Bobo to break into Aunty’s apartment, search her room for the recipe book that has the jollof rice recipe in it and bring it to me? My future depends on it.

Jollof Rice

You will need:

  • 1 small onion – diced
  • 3 cups long grain rice
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups stock (chicken or meat)
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 small onion – sliced
  • 1 large tomato – sliced
  • About 50 grams of butter

For the sauce, blend:

  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1 yellow habanero pepper (more if desired)
  • Boil the pepper mix until most of the liquid from mix evaporates. The blend should be thick and ‘dry’

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, heat the oil.
  2. Add the diced onions and fry for about 5 minutes or until the onions become translucent.
  3. Add the tomato paste and fry for about 5 minutes stirring constantly.
  4. Add the rice and cook for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the blended sauce mix, stock (start with 1 cup and add as you go along) and seasonings.
  6. Stir well and let the pot come to a boil.
  7. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and cook until the rice is done. (Add additional stock if necessary)
  8. Add the sliced tomatoes, onions and butter and stir.
  9. Turn the heat off and let the steam soften the vegetables.
  10. Stir before serving.

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