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    Pull up to Funmi’s Cafe, nestled in an alcove in the Gardiner Lane Shopping Center (the one with the Krispy Kreme on Bardstown Road), and you’ll see a glass storefront almost identical to the barbershop next to it. A few African-inspired paintings hang on lavender and beige walls. Fifteen tables that seat between two and four people. And it’s clean. Really clean. Even the caulk between floor tiles. “If you come here and I’m not cooking, I’m mopping,” owner Funmi Aderinokun, 44, says. “I was raised to believe cleanliness is godliness.”

    Aderinokun is the restaurant’s only chef and has been since opening in 2010. It’s a labor of love. Better than the job at Citigroup she took on after her arrival in the U.S. from Lagos, Nigeria, in 2003. “I was talking to my friend about a restaurant,” Aderinokun says, “and he said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, you should do it. This is America!’” And with a business management degree from the University of Jos in Nigeria, she knew she could do something different, bigger.

    It’s a labor of heritage. “My great-grandmother was from Sierra Leone, and she cooked for the British. That’s how recipes like lemon pepper dressing” — used in Aderinokun’s vegan kachumbari, or East African coleslaw — “got in my family,” Aderinokun says. “I started cooking when I was 10. My mother had five boys and five girls and other people living with us, so I was cooking for 20 people by myself by the time I was 12.”

    Among her most popular items are vegan dishes like asaro (a sweet porridge with plantains, onions, potatoes and collard greens) and adalu (a stew of African brown beans and sweet corn steamed with tomatoes and onions).

    Aderinokun keeps it fresh. Does everything in-house. Buys most everything from local farms, including one in Indiana for the meats. Only thing she buys pre-made is sweet chili sauce. Aderinokun experiments with her recipes. Keeps it new: Tanzanian beef curry, chicken-peanut stew. “My grandmother taught me there’s no one way to cook anything,” she says. “You can add things, make it your own, twist it. I love her for that.”

    Like her mother, whom Aderinokun describes as “old-fashioned,” Aderinokun is also a little bit old school. She remembers her son coming home from a sleepover once: “Mom,” he said, “did you know you can cook eggs in the microwave?”

    “Never in my house!”

    Article written by Tyler Curth. Images courtesy of Krista Walker.

    This article appears in the October issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here

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