Photograph: Antonio Olmos for Observer Food Monthly
We’re excited to say that Shwen Shwen has been featured as one of Observer Food Monthly’s food favourites for 2022. Read what they say about us below …
Born and raised in Freetown, Sierra Leone, chef Maria Bradford now lives and works in Kent, where Shwen Shwen, her catering company and food business selling chilli sauces and a range of traditional Sierra Leonean drinks via mail order is based. Bradford uses social media to highlight her home country’s food history and culture. “Sierra Leone’s very core and nature is fusion. It is a land of many sensations, colours and flavours,” she says. “A land of mountains rising from the sea, beautiful beaches, rainforests, mangrove swamps, savanna grasslands, and rivers.” Bradford’s cooking reflects this.
Posts about bittas, egusi, ogirie and gambay bologie served with Eba, her bottled drink that blends coconut water with Kent lavender and is inspired by the jelly sellers on the streets of Freetown, and how to use black tomblah (AKA black velvet tamarind, indigenous to West Africa) are evocatively written, fusing modernity and tradition. “Shwen Shwen means fancy, and I decided to take the name on as it’s how many of my fellow Sierra Leoneans have described my food. I’m keen to show that this food can be delivered in a fine dining style and still be proudly West African. I certainly feel there is an undeniable warmth from this kind of representation, especially when you are so far from home.” Her first cookbook, Sweet Salone, will be published by Quadrille in 2023. Says Bradford: “The book will cover everything, from traditional Sierra Leonean cuisine to my Signature Afro-fusion dishes, the country’s history, my family’s journey to and from Sierra Leone.” Nicola Miller