How Dynein is taking the international restaurant experience online

A woman sitting on a sofa with chairs and tables behind her.

Social entrepreneur and member Ooooota Adepo shares the story behind her latest project, which reimagines dishes from restaurants and hotels around the world

As told to Jess Kelham-Hohler   Above image by Sebastian Bottcher    Saturday 25 July, 2020    Long read

In 2018 Nigerian-born, London-based member Ooooota Adepo gave a TEDx Talk investigating the barriers to travel experienced by people of African descent. Two years later, as the world went into lockdown, Adepo served up a digital slice of culinary escapism by documenting dishes from restaurants across the globe. Here, she discusses Dynein’s mission to democratise travel, and support struggling hospitality businesses worldwide.

Where did the idea for Dynein come from?

‘Like most people at the beginning of lockdown, I struggled. It wasn’t so much the restrictions to movement that got to me, it was being kept in the dark about what lay ahead. Food became my form of expression. 

‘I created Dynein towards the end of May as a tool through which food and travel lovers could experience the cuisine and sensibilities of restaurants they were estranged from. Dynein is a platform that recognises the world’s most exciting restaurants and hotels, and enables people to access them through the images I create.’
Salad on a black plate.
Courtesy of Dynein

'I have spoken at TEDxBerlin about the discrepancies in access to the world for different people, particularly for Africans. Coming on this culinary tour with Dynein allows anyone to travel and to feel like they too can create an exciting and beautiful meal'

Where did your love of food come from?

‘There are two sides to what makes food fascinating. First, there is the humility of the ingredient, which is only as sincere as the conditions that bear it. Secondly, there is the craftsmanship and ingenuity chefs mobilise to create dishes that tell a story. I didn’t begin cooking until university after I’d amassed hours of cooking shows. I would watch Emeril Lagasse, Masaharu Morimoto and Rick Stein demonstrate their various ways of manipulating ingredients as I did my calculus homework.’

How did you go about deciding which places and cuisines to focus on?

‘So far, my posts have covered restaurants in Central America, the US, Europe and Asia. But there are so many more images I can’t wait to share on restaurants in Lima, São Paulo, Santo Domingo, Accra, Colombo and Moscow, to name a few. The common denominator is creativity and personality. Cuisine doesn’t have to be culturally specific to the region. There are many restaurants in East Africa that make excellent sushi, and I recognise them too.’

Despite increased options over the past few decades, travel has typically been a luxury reserved for those who can afford it. Do you see Dynein as an opportunity to democratise our access to the world? 

‘That is precisely what I’m doing with Dynein. I have spoken at TEDxBerlin about the discrepancies in access to the world for different people, particularly for Africans. Coming on this culinary tour with Dynein allows anyone to travel and to feel like they too can create an exciting and beautiful meal. There is another angle to democratisation in this undertaking. The global culinary agenda tends to recognise restaurants in certain parts of the world, while overlooking others. Placing restaurants from across the globe on an equal footing is my way of correcting this skewed appraisal.’
Green soup with an orange flower on it.
Cooked prawns still in their shells on a white plate.

Can you explain a bit more about Dynein’s mission to support the global hospitality industry? How do you see this working and why is it important to you?

‘Many restaurants are now emerging out of lockdown, but many others are still struggling. When I began posting on Instagram, I made it a duty to reference funding campaigns set up by restaurants to help their staff get through this difficult period. Now, I want to focus on inspiring people and driving traffic to restaurants, virtually and physically. We’ve only just begun, but as we grow and reach certain targets, Dynein will develop its fundraising initiative towards local restaurants.’

What is your best culinary travel memory?

‘In 2014, I took an unforgettable trip alone to Myanmar. It was only a year after the country had opened up again and I landed in Yangon around 8pm not having booked a hotel or my flight to Bagan the following morning. Past immigration, I was faced with a throng of local men, all bidding for my patronage as drivers. My eyes went to a gentle face. After he took me to a hotel that I’d booked minutes before and I’d dropped off my things, I asked for an authentic Burmese food experience. He drove me to this roadside stall, where we perched on stools and had a plate of assorted stew-like dishes with rice. One stew in particular, which was pronounced something like “le ban muyi”, was incredible. It was flavoured with vibrant spices and contained what tasted like Maldive fish. We were then served tiny cups of tea with condensed milk, which we drank as we took in the night’s air.’
A woman sitting on a boat on water.
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