“Nigeria doesn’t have fine dining yet,” -You can’t win Opeyemi Famakin on any topic about food

Dennis Da-ala Mirilla
You can't win Opeyemi Famakin on any topic about food

“10/10 is for God. 9/10 is for Me. 8/10 is for the best Dish I taste,” Opeyemi Famakin, the food critic, plastered on his Instagram like a signpost. He begins almost every video on his page, where he has amassed 186k followers, with an introduction; “Hello guys. I’m Opeyemi Famakin. The biggest food critic in Nigeria…” in part to announce a statement of fact, but also to troll the “ignorant Nigerian elites” who have tagged him “ghetto” and “uncouth,” for his sharp, witty commentary of the Nigerian food scene, posting videos of himself on the internet swallowing Amala.

“Opeyemi Famakin is just seriously clout chasing, and this is his MO try to bring people’s businesses down,” the chef, Taylow Tamod, tweeted this past Sunday.

“I’m crying. That food critic Opeyemi posted a video and, this time, didn’t talk with his mouth open. Seems like bullying is part of his character development,” @Skevvy blasted in December. “Opeyemi Famakin has to do some self-introspection because why is a self-acclaimed professional food critic uncouth and tribalistic?” @feyisparkles tweeted.

“A lot of them tease me. They say ‘this guy is razz,'” he told Technext in a recent interview. “First of all, I grew up in Ikoyi. My early childhood was in the US. But I’m just like ‘My content is not for you.’ I’m always pissed when the elite class say things like, ‘I don’t f*** with him. I don’t like him. Who gives a f*** about what you think?” he said.

Over the years, he has grown to become one of the biggest Instagram accounts in Nigerian cyberspace, dolling out opinions about restaurants and food vendors, surpassing Eat Drink Lagos, an account that started documenting the Lagos food scene long before Opeyemi Famakin took his Instagram seriously, has a namesake festival and still only 40k followers.

“There were no plans to be an influencer. Once in a while, I’ll cook and I’ll post my food content. In doing this, I was just amassing followers that liked my content.” he said.

How Opeyemi Famakin’s story began

He had gotten a university degree in Mass Communication, where as a student, he worked for big media brands like Pulse Ng and BellaNaija. He had first-hand experience in both the young content economy and round-the-clock journalism experience, going on to become a senior editor at a music blog. At the blog, he tried to push food content. But it wasn’t their focus, so they pushed back.

“They were killing my creativity.”

Opeyemi Famakin

Out of boredom, after years on the job, Opeyemi Famakin contacted an advertising agency close to where he lived and asked if they would bring him on board. With no advertising experience, he started a new role that later saw him manage campaigns for brands like Globacom, Mouka Foam, and Golden Morn.

When a food brand approached the advertising agency that it wanted to launch a product and needed influencers, his colleagues bounced around names of beauty and fashion influencers. He asked why not food influencers instead. They suggested some chefs. He suggested himself and his 5000 followers’ Instagram account.

He was laughed at. By market metrics, with 5000 followers, he wasn’t even a micro-influencer. So he took up the challenge. It was 2019, and he said in a year, he would become the biggest food influencer in Nigerian cyberspace. He did it in nine months.

“I just pretended I was a brand. That was my job; to create strategies for new brands to dominate the market,” he said. “Most content creators just post content hoping to blow. But I knew what the advertisers wanted. I knew what the audience wanted with my background in advertising. I was very intentional.”

Then he made his first dough, 30 thousand Naira from Maggi. But he still took it as a hobby. Opera News had come into the market and was looking for a lead brand strategist. He went for the interview. An offer was made. But a clause in the contract said he had to abandon his newfound fame as a food critic. He said no, went home and cried himself to sleep. “I like money but money was never my driving force, even now,” he said. “It will sound weird but when you know this food thing is your destiny,” a well-paid Opera job doesn’t stand a chance.

He observed the market and found that the players at the time didn’t cater to middle-class Nigerians. They zoomed in on glamorous pictures with flowery short captions. They sold a narrative that food content on Instagram didn’t involve ordering food from vendors or posting videos with friends munching trays for chicken wings at a new spot. They documented content from upscale restaurants exclusively. They denied the existence of roadside Lagos food in their bid to cater to the elusive one per cent and all those that seek to be invited to that club.

Read also: Folagade Banks only wanted to celebrate mothers with ‘Mama Adeola’, but he became Instagram’s next star

But it wasn’t a culture that they started necessarily as much as it was one they copied. Food criticism worldwide has never fully included roadside food vendors, that is, until after the pandemic.

The gospel, according to Opeyemi Famakin

Opeymi Famakin came on the scene with a new message. He blurred the lines between the food scenes. He made eating Amala great again. He posted videos of himself at White House, the famed buka spot in Yaba. He bought Suya Rice from Korede Spag.

“I realised when I studied them that all of them were doing restaurant and they were doing only fancy restaurant and they were doing pictures,” he said. “I was doing videos and talking and giving them an experience. They will do short captions. I was doing food vendors, street food, bukkas. And all of them were doing only rich places. meaning they were speaking to the elite ten per cent and the ninety per cent left, nobody was speaking to them.”

You can't win Opeyemi Famakin on any topic about food

When the lockdown happened in 2020, an opportunity presented itself. With high-end Lagos restaurants shut down, he was able to find a wider audience for his content, young Nigerians who didn’t know where to get food while sheltering at home.

Now he spends his time visiting universities across West Africa, announcing which vendor made the best alternative to meat at Babcock University and if Ghanaians had to high tolerance for alcohol. He has reviewed the spiciest noodles in the world and outlined all the problems with Don Jazzy’s Jazzy Burger.

“People on Twitter are trolling me that ‘this guy says he’s a food critic, and he’s going to universities to eat their trash food, their pasta. That he doesn’t know anything.

“Most students can’t afford the expensive restaurants I go to. I cannot connect with them. How can I connect with them? By eating their food, letting them know who I am. I call it the Indomie strategy.”

Food critics, well-paid journalists at legacy magazines and newspapers who eat at high-end restaurants and write their take in the next issues of the publication or on the website have been intertwined with the fine dining industry globally. Opeyemi Famakin, however, said Nigeria doesn’t have fine dining yet.

We don’t have fine dining in Nigeria,” he said. “We have upscale dining. It’s a growing industry. I think some chefs are actually trying and pushing the boundary. Only one chef in the whole of Nigerian Chef Elegbede is actually offering fine dining,” he argues.

He says that fine dining is not complete if the food doesn’t tell the story of the indigenous people.

“Their fine dining in Italy tells Italian stories. But in Nigeria, our fine dining is not telling our stories. You go to fine dining and you’ll be eating steak, pasta. This is not the Nigerian story. That is why Ghana is beating Nigeria on the food map. A French person is not travelling to Nigerian to eat pasta,” he said.

But he has faced criticism of unfair reviews. Critics say that by reviewing upscale restaurants and bukas on the same account, he puts them in the same category. They argue that the meticulousness of upscale restaurants should count for something. He says that that is not the case; he rates restaurants and bukas with different benchmarks. They say that a seven from Opeyemi Famakin is still a seven from Opeyemi Famakin.

You can't win Opeyemi Famakin on any topic about food

“That is the elitist people,” he said. “My target market is the middle class and those below them. The elite can see my content and they might like it, but I do not create content that speaks to the elite. I do not create content for those who look down on local food. Also, these fancy restaurants, I’ve been to their kitchen. All of you assume, but all of you would be shocked. An 8/10 for a bukka and 8/10 upscale restaurants are not the same, and my followers they know this.”

Does he even still think of himself as a journalist?

“I am a journalist,” he said. “I report the happenings in the food world. I just don’t do it the traditional way. Things evolve. Either you evolve or you die. I can write my review in Punch or I can give that journalistic opinion on my Instagram. Most of my stuff is journalistic content. It’s like an opinion article basically.”

What does he think of the New York Time food editor, Yewande Komolafe restyling Nigerian jollof rice in a way that critics say could send the cost of making it up?

“If the price of jollof rice goes up in another part of the world would it affect the price in Nigeria?” he asked. “We grow our own pepper, tomatoes. But even if the price goes up, it will benefit Nigeria because it will mean more export of tomatoes or Jollof mixes. But Nigerians like to gatekeep shit they do not know about.

“For example, jollof rice is not even a Nigerian dish. It’s from Senegal. Our jollof rice is not even the best. But Nigerians will argue till death that ours is the best and they’ve tasted only Nigerian own. Ghanaian now is not as good, that one I’ll say. But we own the PR because we have more numbers than them and we are noisemakers. If I’ll give her advice, I’ll tell her to ignore the noise of Nigerians. When it comes to food, many Nigerians are ignorant of their food,” he said.

Currently, he has started a new series, Market Waka, where he visits local markets and documents his experience there. He is also working on a new food show for a soon-to-launch food channel on DSTV. He has plans to travel across Africa, exploring food cultures, and “educating Nigerians.”

“I am obsessed with food. If those things in my life that took me to the next level didn’t happen, I’ll still be that guy that talks about food, posts food content and obsessively spends three to four hours a day watching food content,” he said.

You can't win Opeyemi Famakin on any topic about food

Fire questions with Opeyemi Famakin

Will you ever start a restaurant?
Zero plans to do that. I will never start a restaurant, but I can be a silent partner.

What’s your favourite thing to cook?

Second favourite thing to cook?
Pasta and pancake. Deep down, I’m a basic bitch.

What is your favourite thing to eat?
Amala or jollof rice.

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