Why did you decide to become a chef/restaurateur?
Lookman Mashood: "I was once a chef and manager...at one Nigerian joint on Washington Avenue. This was in 1996. My cooking was so popular. ... So when I left the place in 1998, people asked me when I was going to open my own restaurant. I always said, 'when the time is right.' There were a few Nigerian restaurants at that time, but most of them were not (places) where you could take a friend. I mean, real hole-in-the-wall. So I promised to take this stuff to another level because I believe in it. ... When the time permitted between me and my beautiful girlfriend then, Natalie Goldberg, we created Buka New York, an authentic Nigerian (restaurant) in the heart of Brooklyn, and, of course, you can bring everyone (here)."
What is your favorite dish on your menu?
LM: "Okra soup is my favorite as of now. It’s okra cooked with smoked fish, stockfish, crayfish, and goat, spiced up with our traditional spices. It’s served with different fufu. I prefer the amala fufu. Interesting stuff."
What is the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome in the restaurant industry?
LM: "Running a restaurant in New York is a big challenge. ... The regulation is also crazy. The only reason why I’m still in business is because I can do almost all that needs to be done to keep (the restaurant) open. I’m the head chef and I love to cook whenever my health permits. ... I’m a self-taught chef, courtesy of my grandmother, so whenever we (have) staff issues, we're just getting down (and) getting stuff done. As a restaurant owner, you need a lot of patience with staff and, of course, the customers. It’s called a hospitality industry for a real reason. We (have) to manage different people and whatever they throw at us, but so far, so good. It’s been great."
Is there anything else you want us to know?
LM: "I must say this clearly: Nigerian food is not influenced by anyone, rather it influenced most food around the world. ... The English were not able to colonize our food. ... So when you eat my food, it’s a meal from the beginning of time."