Bisola Dejonwo-Tokan, the first daughter of Wosilat Okoya-Seriki, is a culinary expert. The brain behind the first food festival in Nigeria, Taste of Lagos, she is working round the clock to host this year’s edition of the annual event. A University of Kent graduate of Business Administration, Bisola’s love for food motivated her to bring together different food vendors under one roof for a culinary experience in 2012 at the Freedom Park, Onikan and the rest as they say is history. This year, the event will take place on October 2nd and 3rd at the Eko Atlantic City. In this interview, she shed some light on the preparations for the event and what food lovers should expect.
What’s the inspiration behind Taste of Lagos food festival?
My love for food, was a major influence and it was a new concept in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole. This made it more exciting to explore the possibilities.
Nigeria is blessed with a rich cultural heritage and food plays a major role in our society, defining who we are as a people and I thought a food festival to propagate our rich cultural heritage and educate people about it is apt. We thought we needed to sensitise people to the variety of Nigeria’s indigenous foods.
What’s unique about the food festival?
A first of its kind in Nigeria, Taste of Nigeria events aims to showcase our rich, diverse cuisines and delicacies thereby creating awareness about them. This is history in the making and would impact generations to come, home and away, evolving to become food loving tourists delight. We seek to promote tourism and culture, enhance availability of healthy local food to urban communities and promote Nigerian cuisine and recipes. Ultimately it’s, about promoting the production of quality local foods to encourage healthy eating and community health and lots more.
How was life growing up? Any memorable experience?
Growing up was quite memorable. I grew up in a large extended family. Family dinners and outings were always exciting as we grew, because we met several people and since we were many, there was always some activity or birthday to celebrate most of the time.
Who influenced you the most, your mum or dad?
My mum had a great influence on me especially as my dad passed on while I was five. She always made sure I never lacked and was always very supportive. I learnt early in life that I must work hard for what I want. I worked in mum’s store everyday after school since I was in primary school. I learnt to buy and sell and that has guided me in business till date.
What has life taught you?
To be self-reliant and that I need to maintain a positive disposition and stay focused on my dreams. Life is for the living, work hard, pray hard and be contented. Also, in all the businesses I do, I have learnt to focus on my dreams and I do not limit myself.
What’s style to you?
Style for me is quite basic and being comfortable in anything I wear is always my priority.
Apart from Taste of Lagos what else do you do?
I own and manage a retail pastry and a bakery here in Lagos.
What’s your most cherished fashion item?
A comfortable pair of black skinny jeans and with it, I can conquer the world. I can dress it up or down and either way it’s always a win with black skinnies.
Where is your favourite holiday spot?
Milan. The sights and sounds are absolutely breath-taking. I love shopping there too, because their dress sense is unique and you can also get good bargains on designers’ garbs.
What were and some of your challenges?
Sponsorship! When I started, everyone said food was not the in-thing that firms would consider sponsoring and in fact no one saw the potentials. To them, it was either fashion, music or sports. Also considering participation, established restaurants would not even give us a listening ear. But I was determined and decided to bear the cost of the start-up and thus carved a niche in SME development as small businesses patronised us.
What should we expect from this year’s festival?
A bigger and better organis-ed food festival. A wider selection of food vendors showcasing both local and international cuisines for tasting and sales. Also this year, we anticipate a bigger audience and an unavoidable involvement of the international community.
What are the prospects of the festival? Can you see it expanding even further?
We plan to host festivals in major cities around Nigeria and partner with state governments or other events i.e cultural festivals, sports etc. We anticipate that organisers of these events do not necessarily want to handle the food aspect of their events.
Currently, we have a database of over 200 food vendors in Lagos State. We have relationships with most and we plan to expand this database across Nigeria.