African deli a part of QVM furniture

By David Schout

As some Melburnians continued the panic buying spree throughout March, one Queen Victoria Market (QVM) trader turned away customers who sought to buy excess food, despite it being good for his business.

Kunle Adesua, chef and owner of popular African deli Tribal Tastes, wants to instill some calm in a city clearly gripped by the uncertainty of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

“I don’t believe in hoarding. I don’t believe in panicking. Just come here, buy what you need,” chef Kunle said, relaying how he told some customers to return “in a few days” if they wanted more.

“The message we’re sending to our customers is that we’re with them in this crisis: there is no need to panic, no need to hoard. People should come here, get what they need and we’ll always have a supply for them.”

There’s a sense of calm that emanates from Kunle as he chats to CBD News, one that would serve others well during this period of crisis.

And it’s his overall outlook that has made him a popular trader in the deli hall at QVM since opening Tribal Tastes in 2002, a stall that claims to be the “world’s first African deli”.

Having grown up in Nigeria before moving to Europe to study, Kunle eventually arrived in Melbourne in the late 1990s.

Living in Parkville, his first trip to QVM inspired him to set up his own unique stall.

His vision was to create a deli that not only sold African specialties but also ready-made meals: wholesome, preservative-free meals that are boiled inside their packet and ready to serve.

This pitch to market management, Kunle admitted, was a tough one.

“Africans didn’t have a good reputation,” he explained.

“[The thinking] was all famine, war and turmoil all the time. So, me asking to come and do African food that you take home and heat up; it was like giving someone a licence to sell pork in Saudi Arabia!”

What followed, however, even Chef Kunle could not foresee.

“To my surprise, it was the exact opposite of what was going on in my mind. I opened on a Thursday and I sold out of everything that I had.”

Were the customers the wider African expat community in Melbourne?

“No, it was all Aussies! Middle-class Aussies. Up until then I didn’t fully understand Australians, but at that point I did … Australians have this spirit of embracing and encouraging other cultures. That’s not saying there’s no racism or discrimination, because that’s still there. But the generality of society and policy of individuals is embracing and encouraging multiculturalism.”

The ready-made meals, which include jollof rice, blackeye beans in sauce, West African chicken stew and other quinoa and lentil dishes, remain ever popular at Tribal Taste to this day.

They are all made at a manufacturing plant in Reservoir, where Chef Kunle takes fresh QVM produce back and prepares and packages the meals, which have a shelf life of three months.

Kunle married wife Rosie Fenech in 2006 and shortly after she started to work in the business. 

Now operations manager, Rosie said all the food they produced was free of gluten, sugar and dairy.

And while some business used these terms as a way of luring clients who may have certain dietary requirements – whether forced or by choice – Rosie said it was just how they did things.

“We say that these things are ‘traditions, not trends’. So, it’s not that we’re trying to be trendy that we’re gluten-free, it’s actually the tradition of Kunle’s cuisine that he makes.”

Although, she admitted with a smile, it certainly didn’t hurt business.

Rosie said that if anyone was ready for the ensuing uncertainty in the coming months, it was Kunle and the team.

“Our philosophy is that during time of abundance, we preserve food so that in times of scarcity, food is available. That’s the whole philosophy of our business. It couldn’t be more timely at the moment.”

Tribal Tastes is located at Stall 83 in the Dairy Produce Hall at QVM. See more at tribaltastes.com.au

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