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Atim Ukoh photographed in her Lagos kitchen by MoyosoreOluwa Odunfa-Akinbo for Something Curated.

Atim Ukoh is a food explorer at heart, inspired by the flavours of her childhood and the endless possibilities that she believes exist in Nigerian cuisine. 

Ukoh began her career in pharmaceuticals before moving into digital enterprise management, but a love for food has always been with her. Her pioneering brand, Afrolems – afro-lems is slang for African eating – started as a food blog over 14 years ago: a catalogue of hundreds of Nigerian and West African recipes communicating more traditional methods alongside her modern, creative spin on them. Outside of her blog, she shares her culinary creations through private dinners, event catering, and most recently – in 2023 – through ‘Shop Afrolems’, a cloud kitchen in Lagos, Nigeria where her followers and fans can pre-order her meals for collection at through Instagram. At Shop Afrolems, you get to eat the blog.

Here, MoyosoreOluwa Odunfa-Akinbo steps into Ukoh’s kitchen to learn a little more about the chef, her key ingredients, and her practice.

The Afrolems brand

The Shop Afrolems logo on a bag ready for a customer.

Atim: Shop Afrolems was supposed to reach more people [that are familiar with the Afrolems brand but haven’t had a chance to taste it]. I realised every time I introduced myself, people [would say] ‘oh, yeah, I know the brand, how can we taste your food?’ 

So I decided to start small scale because unless you book me for a private dinner, you may never have access to anything I have created. I also wanted people to be able to experience the recipes I share on my blog in real time and obviously my love for puff puff [Nigerian sweet fritters] also fueled it. So I started to go back to things I had shared.

I’m just sharing what I’m inspired by in the moment. If it works great, if it doesn’t work, I’ll take it off the menu immediately.

The Shop Afrolems logo was designed by my cousin 14 years ago and it stuck. Recently, I’ve been thinking about rebranding.

Italian seasoning 

Italian seasoning in the Shop Afrolems kitchen.

Atim: Is there any spice that I’m holding on to?

It’s weird, but I really like Italian seasoning – for everything. In fact I think someone came to intern with me and she said, ‘you seem really inspired by Italian meals,’ but not really actually, I just like Italian seasoning. It’s weird, but it’s one thing that I feel is all encompassing for a lot of dishes because it is flavourful and versatile.

Oron crayfish

Atim’s coconut fisherman rice. Atim Ukoh.

Atim: If I had to talk about a flavouring or condiment, it would be Oron crayfish. It has a lot of umami. I didn’t grow up eating iru (fermented locust beans) because I am from an Efik household, but crayfish was important [as one of our major sources of umami flavour]. I think I took it for granted because it was in front of me everyday, until I started trying really bad crayfish. I think [in] the combination of Oron crayfish and Cameroonian pepper, there’s something there [the combination of the rich umami from the crayfish and floral heat from the Cameroonian pepper]. The coconut fisherman rice dish (pictured above) includes crayfish, Cameroonian pepper and a little bit of ehuru.

Ehuru – calabash nutmeg 

Ehuru seeds – a Nigerian pepper-soup spice, traditionally reserved for savoury dishes.

Atim: What I also like to do for desserts is add ehuru (African calabash nutmeg), it’s more reminiscent of allspice in my mind, but with depth. 

I feel like for desserts it’s the balance you didn’t think you needed and it has a slight bitter note in there, but it works. It brings things together and it makes your desserts more rounded. I’m not a heavy dessert person, but I see the value. 

I did an apple and agbalumo (African star apple) crumble recently with ehuru as the main spice. Most times when people taste it, they’re confused because it’s familiar, but they can’t put their hand on it until I tell them it’s this [pepper-soup] spice. 

Puff puff (Nigerian sweet fritters)

Puff puff batter in the Shop Afrolems kitchen.

Atim: I’m a bit of a restless person… I really admire when people stay with one thing. Which is why I am trying to discipline myself with one ingredient and it’s hard.

Things that mean a lot to me are seeing the versatility of our ingredients. Growing up, I always had that at the back of my mind because my mum used to experiment a lot.

I think that’s my thing that I want to hold on to: what are the 10,000 ways I can use this ingredient. [Shop Afrolems started because] I also wanted people to be able to experience the recipes I share on my blog in real time and obviously my love for puff puff also fuelled it. 

I realised puff puff is great, but you need other options because people at the end of the day would want variety so I started to go back to things I never shared like our ofada meat pies and plantain dambu nama scotch eggs. 

Again, I’m trying to kind of redefine what the snack/pastry game is [in Lagos at the moment]. I’m not even a pastry chef, I feel like I’m a little too cuisine to do pastry – I like to eyeball things and cook from my soul, but with pastries you have to be precise so it also guides anybody that is going to replicate it. But I’ve realised that sometimes you still need soul.


Giant plantains next to Atim’s hand. Atim Ukoh.
Shop Afrolems’ plantain dambu nama scotch eggs. Atim Ukoh.

Atim: Like the plantain dambu nama scotch eggs – I have different variations of it. When I shared it on my blog initially, it was only plantain, but the whole point of scotch eggs is the meat so I did mince meat during Covid and then I decided to do something a bit more Nigerian because mince meat is okay, but dambu (Nigerian meat floss) is unique to us. 

Plantain to me, is something people from all over the world can relate to. 

MoyosoreOluwa Odunfa-Akinbo is a chef and writer based in Lagos Nigeria. She curates Nigerian fine dining experiences with her team at the Àtijẹ Experience. Header photograph: plantain dambu nama scotch eggs, by MoyosoreOluwa Odunfa-Akinbo.

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