Pandemic living: The memory of Chef Imoteda's Chicken Burger gives me hope for the future
Every now and then I find myself thinking of pre-pandemic life; the parties, the brunches, the dinners, we went to without fear of infection. I miss those days dearly. I said to a friend the other day, “I wish I’d held your hand at least once.” Back then I thought I had no reason to, but now that greetings are exchanged with elbow bumps, I feel that I missed a lot of opportunities to be affectionate.
Lagos has opened up, but it isn’t like it was. On the surface it looks like we don’t care about the pandemic; many go out without masks - hugging, kissing, and touching, as they would have before we knew what covid-19 was. If you look a little deeper, you’ll see that the problem - our recklessness, isn’t because we don’t care, it’s that we’re generally so unsafe here that the addition of covid-19, an extra risk to the mountain of risks associated with everyday Nigerian life, is a drop of water in an ocean of death threats. This is Nigeria’s specific brand of covid fatigue.
The face masks make it harder to breathe, more difficult to speak. Working from home, convenient, but when it’s the only choice, it becomes its own kind of solitary confinement, a bit like prison. At first, the desire to return to the old normal feels like a reckless want, like how people on beer budgets crave champagne every now and then. Then time passes, the stresses of pandemic reality stack and grow, like a poorly constructed skyscraper. With the addition of every floor, each new inconvenience, the foundation grows more unstable. Then one day we say, “Fuck it. I’m going out. I’m going to that wedding, to that party. I’m going to live life as I once did.” After the first drink, the mask comes down and stays down, but the worries remain. “Have I got covid?” you’ll think as you take a sip, as you settle into a hug. “Could this be a super spreader event?” You’ll ask yourself as you walk into a wedding reception. Then after you’ve completed your mischief, your little bit of escapism, you’ll start watching your symptoms, with every sneeze, you’ll think, “Do I have covid?” Every time you feel slightly off, “Do I have I have covid?” The minute your eyes feel sore, “Do I have covid?” And worst of all, the text from a friend you saw at whatever thing you went to, “I just tested positive for covid-19.”
I’ve had covid and I should have some degree of immunity. But still… I can’t bring myself to be as social as I was pre-lockdown. Living at home, with my parents, there's too much at stake. It is better to stay safe - reliving memories, than it is too endanger those I love with the reckless pursuit of youthful delights.
In February 2020 (pre-lockdown), I went out to lunch at Atmosphere, a restaurant in Lekki, Lagos. The food there is glorious. The restaurant’s head chef, Imoteda, deserves a field of flowers. I had a chicken burger, and potato wedges. I think of that meal often - about how moist the chicken was, and how every bite, exploded my brain and stirred my nethers. The bun was perfect, and it was dripping with Imoteda’s special sauce. Every bite was an injection of happiness. I had burger with sweet potato wedges. On the menu I think they were called fries, but I was happy to see that they didn’t take the definition of fries too literally. Thick, chunky, and filling, exactly what the doctor ordered.
I want to go back, to sink my teeth into Atmosphere’s menu. And then, I want to go to Signature, her new restaurant in Lekki, Lagos. I hear she’s done amazing job with both the kitchen and the bar. I’ve been following Chef Imoteda for 7 years. Her cooking feels like love, home, friendship, like a wife or husband - keeps you warm at night. With the way things are, it may be a while before I taste her cooking as it's meant to be tasted, surrounded by friends, with brilliant conversation punctuating every chew. Until then, I've got the memories of that last burger at Atmosphere.
We will meat again soon.