Freda Muyambo is vivacious, generous and full of energy. Her spirit and zest for life shows in her colorful and exciting dishes brought with her across the world to London from her native Botswana and from other African nations. Her Pan-African dishes are easy to prepare, simple and satisfying to the eye and the palate. Most of all however, Freda, or Freedes to her friends, inspires us all to enjoy life and have fun while sharing a great meal with friends and family. What could be better?
Can you tell us a little about your background?
My name is Freda Muyambo and I often go by the pen name of Freedes, a nickname given to me by my friends. I love food, and I particularly love African food! Blogging about it, writing about it, eating food, researching foods, selecting the most exciting ingredients, cooking and sharing food. As a result, I am best known for my expertise in African cuisine, and it is all thanks to my uniquely diverse background. My parents are from Ghana and I was born and raised in Botswana. And if that was not enough, I fell in love with and married the love of my life, a suave gentleman from Zimbabwe, who I met in Melbourne, Australia. We now live in London and have three children.
What path led you to developing My Burnt Orange, your African food and lifestyle blog?
It was not until a few years into being married that I started to learn about the world of entertaining and engaging our best friends in delightfully vibrant conversation at our dinner table. When we moved to London, I wanted to give my friends something different and began to cook them the foods I grew up with. So we had countless dinner parties in the kitchen of our first London flat. Some of my fondest memories were created in that kitchen. I still remember the walls, they were such a vibrant burnt orange colour, hence when I started my blog, it really was a tribute to all the laughs, food and banter we enjoyed in my burnt orange kitchen.
What is it that attracted you to developing a food blog?
I had not realised it at first but when I threw ingredients together, the entire process just energised me and I really began to come alive inside. It was exhilarating, I rarely made the same thing twice and so I started to capture what I had cooked by taking photos. I wanted to express myself so I began to share my food photos on Facebook. When people began to ask for recipes, I thought the best way to draft them in real time was to blog and share.
How would you describe your cooking?
Most of my cooking is fresh, simple and wholesome. When I really want to impress I will go for something quite hearty like a lamb shank ragu with wholesome grains and lentils in it, or a lemon and ginger flavoured chicken roast. I only get extravagant when it comes to food. I don’t hold back and have been known to spend the extra pound for a pretty ingredient. For everyday living though, I will cook something fast, fresh and easy on the pocket, especially if it is after a day at work.
How has your cooking evolved over time?
I would say my cooking has become very centred around my growing family (and the expense of having one lol!). Before the kids came along I didn’t mind rustling up a meal which required hours of preparation and cooking, on a regular basis. But my family has expanded and now I have 3 kids under the age of 6 so life can get hectic… and fun! My troupe is active and we love spending hours on end in the outdoors and on picnics when the weather is good. So when we get home for dinner, I know I only have a short window of saving grace before they get cranky. My food has evolved into fast, fresh and kid friendly. For me fresh includes frozen peas and canned sweet corn and beans too, they are so convenient for quick cooking.
What are your thoughts about food and cooking and its place in the world.
Food invokes a lot of nostalgic emotion as it unlocks some of the history about people and places. It really connects us to each other which is why I will often delve into a cookery course during my international travels. I use food to build relationships and there is nothing better than saying ‘I care about you and understand you’ than cooking up a dish for someone that takes them back to a very happy place.
Can you tell us about how you incorporate your passion for food into your busy lifestyle?
Wow! Life is indeed very busy for me. I never realised it but I am able to accomplish a lot of the things I want to do because of the routine my husband and I have set for our family. The kids always come first, it is almost impossible to try it any other way. But we must also take the time to look after ourselves and this involves making time to eat and live well. Sometimes I will pull something together in 10 minutes and allow the oven or slow cooker do the rest. This gives me time to focus on the evening routine of bath, story and lights out. I can then take an extra 15 minutes to finish off what I was cooking after they are in bed, which we aim to achieve between 7 and 7:30pm. I also try to have my trusty camera phone on hand to capture what I have put on my plate. Really things like pan seared salmon on top of a 10 minute bean stew is a piece of cake for me. Now you know why I like canned veggies and beans, the job is already half done. I try to balance things, having eaten dinner and tidied up by 8pm. I can then put my feet up and rest, or write about my new discoveries or blog about my dinner. Not every evening goes as smoothly so sometimes I cut myself some slack, especially if I am too tired or not in the mood to cook (and clean up!) Life is too short to stress about every detail and food has to be about enjoyment for me. When it becomes a chore, it kills my creativity. We can always do leftovers or take out every now and then.
Are there any great stories you can tell us?
Yes! I can tell you about when I started cooking for my family at the tender age of 8 years old. My mom travelled a lot for business, leaving us in my dad’s very capable hands. Also a creative foodie, she always batch cooked the most tasteful stews for us to eat in her absence. So to accompany her stews, I would cook very simple things like pasta, under the supervision of my dad. It was so simple but my dad would boast about my pasta cooking escapades to the whole world as I knew it. He would have been so proud if he had lived to see what I have been doing with African food.
Can you describe your style?
Being of West African descent one would have expected me to be stereotypically flamboyant and extravagant about what I do and how I go about doing things. However my style and approach is quite minimalist and elegant. Anything forced beyond this will only come across as pretentious, and that is not who I am.
Can you give us a little insight into what inspires you about African foods?
Up until now, African food has been very understated and misunderstood. As such a lot that has been written about it took the viewpoint of observers looking in from the outside. They would often shame and dismiss it as bland and sometimes primitive. I can understand that every so often, our enthusiasm for eating the protein rich crustaceans of the land, a.k.a insects (mopani worms and grasshoppers) can make people feel squeamish. But on the contrary, I find that African food experts know so much about the science of food. The age old practise of fermenting grains to enrich the nutritional content is something the whole world can learn from. The food is also so intriguing and diverse, especially when ingredients which are not known to the world are revealed. There is real opportunity for new content. You only have to look up teff flour and check out some of the emerging trends of hibiscus petals to get your curiosity going. These are some of Africa’s popular staples which have gotten popular over the years.
How did living in Melbourne influence you?
I did a lot of dining out in Melbourne, way before the kids came along. I like to think of Melbourne as the Asian quarter of Australia. This is where I fell in love with Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. I was fascinated by the similarities in the flavours and ingredients in our foods. Which is why I strongly believe there is a place for African food. The world is just waiting for us to popularise it. Other than that, I loved how food in Melbourne was always presented with some sort of finesse. It didn’t matter whether we were fine dining at a top restaurant or eating food which was as cheap as chips, but to me, Melbourne is one of the top contenders for the best place to eat out. And don’t get me started on the coffee, it is just the best.
And, London, how is London different than Melbourne? What inspires you about London?
London is even more diverse than Melbourne and is special in a different way. I feel as though it is the centre of the universe with so many countries and cultures within reach. You can also find anything and everything right here in London so if your travel budget is tight, there is so much for a Londoner to explore in their own back yard, so to speak.
Can you tell us about some of your favorite places for African cuisine?
Traditional African cuisine has a long way to go to become mainstream but for a fantastic dining experience my top destination is Adulis, an Eritrean restaurant. Their kitfo, a mince dish, is so fruity, buttery and delicious. Momo, a Moroccan restaurant is also a great experience. When you head a little bit out of London and venture into Surrey, there is the Percy Arms, an incredible South African inspired restaurant. Their Mozambique style grilled prawns is a very impressive dish. A number of African supper clubs are popping up left, right and centre as I describe in a later answer.
What are your favorite dishes that you make at home?
Oh gosh, that is like asking me who is my favourite child but I can tell you that my husband lives for my slow cooked oxtail stew! Okra stew with prawns is also a favourite.
Can you list five resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?
- Instagram, it is just exploding with fellow African food enthusiasts.
- Blogs, particularly The African Pot Nutrition, Betumi Blog and the Somali Kitchen have a specialist wealth of knowledge in cuisines of particular regions of Africa.
- Pinterest is another great resource.
- Eating out in any restaurant is always inspiring.
- My mum. She is a trained food and nutrition teacher and has a wealth of knowledge in many different types of foods whether Westernised or traditional African style.
Are there any local or other artists, photographers, bloggers, filmmakers, chefs, designers or creative people that inspire you?
There are so many. I particularly love Elsa Brobbey’s work. She takes the most beautiful photographs. I also love what Zoe Adjonyoh of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, a pop up supper club, is doing. Her quirkiness comes through in her brand and her food. Recently, I got to attend an exclusive pasta masterclass given by celebrity chef and star of “Two Greedy Italians”, Gennaro Contaldo (who was also a mentor to Jamie Oliver). Pasta is so simple but I have perfected my pasta cooking skills.
In the last few years you have received a lot of recognition for your style, creativity and for your wonderful dishes from across the African continent. Can you tell us about some of the accolades you have received and what they mean to you?
It all began with a feature by the African Economist as one of 10 of the best African food blogs in 2013. I was most active then. Recently I was featured in CNN’s “5 African food bloggers to follow”. It was the biggest surprise as I just don’t think I can compete (or desire to) with some of the other bloggers churning out content on a regular basis. It is a wonderful thank you to me for something I started purely out of love and passion. I take it as loving me right back and encourages me that what I love to do is relevant, so I will keep going.
Do you have any particular favorite places around the world?
Botswana, the country of my birth. I spent my honeymoon in the north in a place called Kasane (which is actually where Elizabeth Taylor got married once).
What stands out for you as a must see journey or place for others based on your travels?
Kasane is an optimal spot. There is so much to do with Victoria Falls only 45 minutes away. You can go white water rafting in the Zambezi river or bunjee jumping. You can also relax by the poolside, go on river cruises or on a safari tour.
What would be your dream project?
A book, supported by a film series about food. I have already started working on a pilot for a TV series I hope to pitch, centred around African food. I am funding it myself so it will take time, but I am starting small, right where I am and hope to travel to places like Ethiopia, Zanzibar, South Africa and Nigeria, to start with.
Freda in London
Can you tell us your favorite London neighborhood and why?
Brixton in South London is bubbling right now with pop up shops and food establishments. I also get a lot of African ingredients and souvenirs there.
Where do you shop for the tools of your trade?
Most Afro Caribbean shops would have what I need from wooden spoons to traditional food grinders. Ethnic Asian grocers also stock foods that both cultures consume.
Where and what was the last great meal you had in London?
A medium done steak at Momo Moroccan restaurant.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
In bed snuggling with my kids. We get our rest on after such a hectic week. When we get up, it is pancake making time.
Where do you go in London to have fun?
Night outings are few and far between so we live for daytime play with the kids. I get on the swings too! When the weather is not great we head to Gambado in Chelsea for indoor fun. I love racing with the kids in the bumper cars. I just get stuck in with the kids and forget about everything else.
What is it about London that inspires you to create?
The diversity here is so accessible. London is a spice haven with fresh food markets and Indian spice stalls.
London’s best kept secret?
It is another kid friendly one (and London is surprisingly very kid friendly). The Rookery in Streatham is a park and garden filled with wonder. I happened to discover it just a few months ago during a Mideival festival. We were immediately transported into a different world filled with wishing wells and swords. We truly felt as though we were walking through castle grounds of old times.
I have an upcoming event, 3 October, in honour of Botswana’s 49th year independence celebrations. I have been invited to cook a traditional Botswana meal of dumplings and stew for Mama Jumbe’s restaurant in London and am both scared and excited at the same time.
I will be on a panel of speakers discussing “Discovering African Cuisine in the Digital World” during London’s Food Tech Week on 20 October 2015. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/discovering-african-cuisine-in-the-digital-world-tickets-18794030451
I am also due to visit Dubai next month and am planning a visit to Disney land in California early next year if it all goes to plan.
Find out more about Freda “Freedes” Muyambo:
Twitter / Instagram : @myburntorange
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/MyBurntOrange
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