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Nigerian chef behind the Blackness in America pop-up dinners comes to L.A.

Nigerian chef Tunde Wey will be in L.A. cooking at two pop-up dinners next week.
Nigerian chef Tunde Wey will be in L.A. cooking at two pop-up dinners next week.
(Moyo Oyelola )

If you’ve lost much of your appetite leading up to next week’s election, two upcoming pop-up dinners might be just the thing to make you hungry again. Nigerian-born chef Tunde Wey is coming to Los Angeles and cooking two dinners, one at Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park on the eve of the election and the other, at the downtown taqueria Revolutionario, two days after it.

This is Wey’s first visit to Los Angeles, although it’s the second time he has tried to bring his singular Nigerian cooking events — a blend of cuisine and political dialogue — to this town. In 2015, he was booked to cook a dinner at Roy Choi’s Koreatown restaurant Pot when he was detained by immigration agents in La Cruces, New Mexico, (his student visa had expired) and spent 20 days in detention in El Paso. He never made it to California.

Tunde Wey is seen at a previous dinner in Austin, Texas.
Tunde Wey is seen at a previous dinner in Austin, Texas.
(Moyo Oyelola )

“L.A. feels like unfinished business,” Wey says about finally cooking in this town. “It’s an opportunity to come back with a better sense of who I am and what I want to talk about.”

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A lot has happened since Wey first tried to come here. Last year, he moved to New Orleans, where he opened a Nigerian food stall. He also has been traveling across the country with his dinner series called Blackness in America, events which bring together food and people in an effort to open up conversation about race. Wey describes it as “an opportunity to share my food as protest.”

Wey’s American experience began when he first came to this country, at 16, from his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria. He moved to Michigan, where he lived with relatives and went to school. He attended college, became involved with a Detroit restaurant and decided to become a chef. In 2014, he set off across the country to cook the food he’d grown up with at a series of pop-up dinners. Since March, Wey says, he’s cooked in Detroit, Boston, Louisville, Ky., and Pittsburgh, among other cities. “It’s pretty random. I just listen to the wind and the good Lord.”

Wey’s first dinner in Los Angeles, at Diep Tran’s diner Good Girl Dinette, won’t be a Blackness in America dinner, rather an evening of good food in an effort to raise money. The menu is Nigerian: pepper soup; nkwobi, braised trotter stew; moi moi and garri, steamed bean cake and manioc; efo riro, stewed spinach; jollof rice, dodo, or fried plantains, and quail; and puff puff, or deep-fried dough. The second dinner, at Farid Zadi’s restaurant Revolutionario, is a Blackness in American dinner, and already has sold out.

Wey says that he’ll be in town for only the two dinners, as he’s headed to San Francisco the day after the Revolutionario dinner for more events.

As for what he thinks about coming to Los Angeles for the election, Wey, who is in the process of regularizing his immigration status, says: “My parents, who live in Nigeria, call me and tell me to lay low and don’t rock the boat.

“Nobody wants Trump to win. That’s the international consensus; that’s not controversial. Everything that he stands for is problematic for everything that I stand for. Crazy times.”

So instead of pacing, maybe come to Highland Park for an evening of good conversation — with your dining companions, if not with the chef who will be cooking your dinner — and excellent food. Or, as Wey describes it: “The agenda for the night is good food, drink and deep Afro-beats cuts from my stash.” Way more fun than CNN.

Good Girl Dinette: 110 N Ave 56, Highland Park, (323) 257-8980, www.goodgirldinette.com | Revolutionario North African Tacos: 1436 W Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles, (424) 223-3526, revolutionario.com

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