Kent caterer fusing West African roots with local larder gems

By Winnie Adeyemi, Director, AFRICA: Seen & Heard

Throughout Black History Month 2022, the theme for which is Time for Change: Action not Words, AFRICA: Seen & Heard and the Sustainable Restaurant Association have gathered the stories of Black-British foodservice providers across the country.

Reducing and repurposing food waste, ensuring carbon neutrality and feeding communities well were found to be within the DNA of their food heritages as much as their brand missions.

We shine a spotlight on some of the business owners interviewed. Their unique insights provide the Food Made Good Community with food for thought and commercial exploration:

People of Sierra Leonean descent – most notably Kru seamen employed by the Royal Navy who settled in port cities – have made Britain their home since the 1800s. Their cuisine remains relatively unknown across the country, amongst the wider Black community and the general population. Freetown born and raised Maria Bradford is a Kent resident and founder of Shwen Shwen.

Swen Shwen founder Maria Bradford who recently won the African Food category at the inaugural Be Inclusive Hospitality Spotlight Awards

Whilst the ‘fancy’ private catering service serves dinner parties, corporate events and weddings, the brand also produces chilli sauces, soft drinks and has its own prosecco label.

Maria gave an insight into how Shwen Shwen keeps its supply chain local. She feeds the British Sierra Leonean community well and through her culinary art acts as an ambassador for the often misunderstood nation:

“We did have a war. It is over now. Let’s focus on the positive things that are happening there!

“Sierra Leonean food is one of the healthiest in West Africa as we eat lots of leaves. We do eat meat, but we eat lots of fish, seeds, grains and nuts, especially peanuts. The things that some people say are not healthy such as palm oil, I have very strong opinions on!”  

AFRICA: Seen & Heard agree having undertaken research into the ingredient for use in the food and cosmetic industries over the years. Palm oil is indigenous to West Africa and could become the world’s most efficient and sustainable oil if ethically and organically produced in its natural environment. It is a rich source of vitamin E and has played a major part in West African pharmacopoeias and immune system health for millennia.

The taste of tradition prepared with panache and public health in mind is proving successful for Shwen Shwen:

“It has been very well received from other West Africans especially and non-Whites as well. In my private dining, it is a fair split between other Africans and White people who are interested in my food. Sierra Leoneans are interested more in the Afro-fusion things I do as they’re already familiar with the ingredients and want to see how I use them.

“When it comes to the traditional foods, White people are more interested. They want to know more and experience the culture.”

Maria who has just won the African Food trophy at the inaugural Be Inclusive Hospitality Spotlight Awards is keen to reduce her carbon footprint but is realistic about the challenges: 

“When you’re doing African food, the problem that you have is that you are using exotic ingredients that are coming from afar. What I’ve been trying to do is combine them with local produce, as I have fantastic farm shops around me. I work with local producers and blend a bit of my culture into my new home.

Passionately Bissap blends seasonal strawberries with hibiscus flowers and the Purple Haze drink is a mélange of locally grown lavender and coconut water.

Shwen Shwen leads the way in changing narratives and promoting national cuisines from lesser represented West African communities. Fusing local produce to define new tastes that appeal to multi-ethnic audiences is good for the environment and business.

You can check out the sustainability stories of three more Black British foodservice providers here.

Shwen Shwen:                                                 

Instagram: @shwenshwenbymaria

Enquiries and Bookings: email [email protected] tel 07984 259886

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