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Nigerian chef and secuity-guard-turned-entrepreneur Godshelter Oluwalogbon took his popular New York City food truck DF Nigeria to Philadelphia this summer.
Oluwalogbon, better known as Chef Divine, graduated from the New York School of Culinary Arts and trained in the kitchen at the Jewish speciality market Zabar’s before founding Divine Flavored Catering. That company’s Manhattan food truck launched in 2015, and now has set up shop at 5200 Whitaker Ave. near Roosevelt Boulevard in Lawncrest.
DF Nigeria’s menu features dishes from across West Africa. Staples include spicy jollof rice — which is often served with spinach, plantains, and goat — and soup made from the seeds of the egusi melon, which are like creamier pumpkin seeds.
Nigerian food “has so much detail you need to pay attention to,” Oluwalogbon told Billy Penn.
That detail is instantly perceptible from the first bite, with layers of flavor coaxed out of lots of slow cooking. Nigerian staples are the root of many diaspora cuisines, so many of the flavors and spice blends will be immediately recognizable for lovers of Cuban, Puerto Rican, and African American soul food.
Oluwalogbon regularly visits suppliers in West Africa, directing them on how raw ingredients should be made to pack a maximum punch in his recipes. When it comes to egusi, for example “it must not feel like you’re chewing sand,” he said. “You must be able to chew the egusi and let it melt into your mouth.”
DF Nigeria came to Philly via New York, where Divine and his wife Bisola have run the catering arm of their business since 2005. When customers told the duo they wanted the same food in smaller portions, Divine and Bisola invested around $40k into opening their first truck, where they served jollof rice outside the Nigerian Embassy blocks away from the Chrysler Building.
It’s still a family business. Bisola runs the Whitaker Ave. truck, which is also staffed by his daughters Tobi and Hadassah, alongside his “big son” Elijah.
The family moved to Philly in 2021. “For whatever reason for the past 14 years, I’ve always felt that there’s something for me in Philadelphia,” Oluwalogbon said.
Across all locations and business iterations, Divine’s north star has always been consistency.
“If you come back to us 5 years from now, the same taste from our jollof rice is what you’re gonna get,” he said.
From gefilte fish to jollof
Oluwalogbon learned about the value of consistency in an unexpected place: Zabar’s.
This gourmet institution on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, known as a wonderland of Jewish foods (think oversized knishes, cheeses, and foie gras), is where Chef Divine honed his skills for over 10 years.
He started at the market as a security guard when he immigrated to the United States. Eventually, a recommendation from his supervisor landed him a job as a prep cook under executive chef Boris Basin.
From there, he earned promotion after promotion — working “in literally all the departments in the kitchen,” he says — until he became a sous chef.
Now at the helm of his own company, Oluwalogbon attributes a lot of what he knows about running a kitchen to his former boss. Basin was “very tough, was crazy,” Oluwalogbon recalled. “But now I understand why the craziness and the madness … because I’m in his shoes now.”
Oluwalogbon and Bisola plan on making further inroads into the Philly community by popping up at flea markets and festivals, and hosting their own events “where people can come and have a blast of Nigerian food.”
Whatever shape the continued expansion of Divine Flavored Catering takes, it’s a quote from Basin that guides Oluwalogbon: “My boss would always tell me, when you are in food you have to attach yourself to it. He said, ‘When you make food, it’s like when you make love.’”