LA’s Most Exciting Pop-Up Is This Nigerian Tasting Menu in Hollywood
A suitcase arrives in Los Angeles each month from Nigeria. Its contents include a mix of suya spices, dried hibiscus, shito paste and other raw ingredients for chef Tolu Erogbogbo’s kitchen in Hollywood. Here, he and his business partner David Olusoga run a West African pop-up called Ilé. The dinners are a deeply personal expression of the flavors Erogbogbo grew up with. “I want to know where I buy my spices from,” says Erogbogbo, who calls himself Eros. He adds that everything he sources is sustainably grown in local villages around his hometown of Lagos, a metropolis as large as Los Angeles and currently the second most populous city in Africa. The chef admits some of the ingredients might be from Southern California, but after years of traveling the world and cooking out of a suitcase, that’s not just the way he’s used to doing things, it is now part of its history.
Eros never studied cooking, but after earning a degree in international business management in the UK aged 21, he opened a French patisserie in Lagos. Within a few years, he opened a second restaurant and had a client list that included many of the country’s elite. Although his meteoric rise to success led to the Billionaire cook nickname, with appearance on CNN for his cuisine, he always felt the need to leave Nigeria. “There was something outside that I was looking for. I never felt satisfied just being at home — being what we would call a “local champion,” says Eros. In 2017, he started his travels in Dubai, Europe and the United States. At each new location, he would rent a house, gather a few friends, cook for the group, ask them to contribute money to cover the cost of dinner, and then travel. The pandemic put an end to this nomadic and moving feast, but in the summer of 2021, Eros was eager to travel again.
“I packed an entire suitcase of pickles, spices and sauces, and headed to the States,” he said. At first he planned to visit just three cities, get a house when he arrived, cook for friends, and repeat the pattern he was perfecting, but the trip quickly turned into 13 dinners in seven cities. in three months. At the end of the trip – with stops in New York, Atlanta, Houston, etc. – Eros knew he had to stay in America, and in Los Angeles in particular. “I landed in Los Angeles and felt like home,” Eros said. “The energy, the sun, the atmosphere.” But Eros’ visa was about to expire and the idea of returning to Lagos “literally depressed me”, he continued. “I couldn’t leave my room for two days because I felt like I was going backwards. How can I continue?
After speaking with an immigration attorney, he learned that an O-1 visa (a special nonimmigrant visa granted only to an “alien of extraordinary ability,” according to USCIS) seemed like the best way to get through. stay in the United States, but the current Eros visa was only a few days old, and the O-1 could take a year or more to obtain. “I said to God, ‘If it’s meant to be, you’ll make it stress-free,'” he recalled. “I wouldn’t have to beg or cry for that to happen.” His prayer was answered: the new visa arrived within a month.
But if Eros was going to stay for real this time, he needed a plan, something bigger than a few fleeting dinners with friends. He wanted to replicate in Los Angeles the success he had achieved in Lagos, but he needed a partner who could help him in this new market and who would also share his dreams.
Olusoga moved out west from New York nearly a decade ago to follow his passion for food. The laid-back approach to dining in Los Angeles appealed to him, as did the diversity of cuisines and the freshness of Southern California produce. The Nigerian-born, Queens-raised banker wanted to open his own restaurant, and Los Angeles felt like the right place to do it. He had tried a few ideas with chefs, and even cooked himself, but nothing seemed to stick. Then, earlier this year, Olusoga was at a party when a friend introduced him to Erogbogbo.
“We literally talked all night, and two days later I invited him over to my house for lunch,” Eros laughs. It soon became clear that each had found the partner they were looking for.
In April, the two opened Ilé, their Nigerian chef’s dining experience, operating from Eros’ live workspace in Hollywood. “There’s just something about a real chef’s table, being in a chef’s house and feeling their essence,” Eros says, adding that “my brain works differently in this kitchen than it does. has never done it elsewhere”.
Anyone familiar with Nigerian cuisine will not feel lost at one of Eros and Olusoga’s dinner parties. The fried chicken jollof rice is outstanding as is the pepper soup with snapper. Both are deeply complex and aromatic dishes that fully embrace the robust flavors of Nigerian cuisine. Every bite here sings on several notes – sweet, spicy, crunchy, gooey, smoky. Eros blends yaji peppers into multiple dishes without ever making it overwhelming. His ewa agoyin turns popular black bean street food into a garri-crusted donut that balances a rich umami with a sweet palm oil sauce. A night in Ilé is more than food; it is an introduction to Nigerian culture and music, and the life story of Eros. It is a table that creates a community.
And the word spread. In the short time that Ilé has been open, it has already become a destination for actors, musicians and other connoisseurs. A recent night saw actress Billie Lourde in one seat and Grammy-nominated entertainer Jidenna in another. “Chef Eros and the Ilé team have concocted a magical presentation of Nigerian fusion,” says Jidenna of the dinner which blends “traditional tastes with modern accents.” It also “brings a chic Afropolitan scene to LA,” she says, which complements the recent rise of “Afrobeats and Amapiano music into LA nightlife.”
It is a link that is not lost on Olusoga. For him, the new generation of Nigerians who grew up in the United States are becoming directors, musicians, executives. “I think it’s high time that some of the great things in our world got into a certain class of people and they saw us in a certain light,” he notes. While Nigerian cuisine has traditionally been relegated to the family shop, Ilé wants to bring it into the mainstream.
For this reason, Ilé will not remain a pop-up forever. Olusoga and Eros are already planning to open a permanent physical restaurant. “He has big dreams,” Olusoga says of Eros. “But the way I think about it is being in LA and having the city embrace us first and show that love.”
For now, find Ile sur Tock. Dinners are on Thursdays and Fridays, with two seats, one at 5:30 p.m. which is a four-course menu for $120. The second course is a nine-course menu at 7:30 p.m. for $250. Both seats are BYOB, with plans to expand to more nights by summer.
Island1312 Cole Avenue, Hollywood.