The Best Thing We Ate This Week: Moi Moi at Ilé

It was another good food week in LA, and this dish was our favorite thing about it.

Moi Moi at Ilé
Photo by Katie Jones, courtesy of Ilé
Photo by Katie Jones, courtesy of Ilé

Conversation is lively at the dinner table; a 20-something TikTok creator films a young-at-heart real estate developer as he dispenses pearls of half-drunk wisdom, a young woman celebrating a birthday laughs with a couple who are there for their anniversary, but then there is a rhythmic pinging of metal on metal, and everyone falls silent—Chef Eros is about to speak. He commands attention, and he gets it. It’s his experience, after all, the magnificent West African tasting menu called Ilé.

Dry ice floats around him, music rings out, and Chef Eros, the Nigerian restaurateur and culinary entertainer known as Tolu Erogbogbo, and also known as The Billionaire Chef, begins to tell a story. He speaks of his childhood in Nigeria, breaking down the next course by its specific region of origin, its common place in Nigerian cuisine, and his personal connection to it. As he talks, plates land in front of diners, and each person gives an audible little gasp—the food is gorgeous and fragrant, a breathtaking combination.

This is exactly the reaction that Chef Eros is going for. His gift for storytelling entwined with his culinary talent creates a ripple of excitement for his plates in particular, and for West African food and culture at large.

Moi Moi at Ilé
Photo by Katie Jones, courtesy of Moi Moi

“My goal is to reach as many people as possible, and to put West African cuisine and its culture on the global food map,” he says. He accomplishes that through the food itself, through the gorgeous plating and elegant technique, but he also does it with the music he plays, and his captivating descriptions of the dishes and their history.

Chef Eros always knew he would wind up in show business, but he didn’t necessarily expect to find himself cooking private dinners in LA. After falling in love with cooking while he was in business school, and then further falling in love with pop-up dinners while running a catering company, somehow it makes sense. “I’m an entertainer at heart, I just happened to find myself in the kitchen,” he says.

The full nine courses at Ilé represent a broad range of essential West African dishes elevated and reimagined, but Moi Moi may be the best encapsulation of Chef Eros and his style. The original dish is a Yoruba classic, black-eyed peas ground into a paste with chiles, spices, and protein, and then steamed into a sort of cake form.

Chef Eros’ version of Moi Moi begins with the traditional, laborious process, taking no shortcuts—it is a multi-day endeavor washing, soaking, de-shelling, grinding, and seasoning to get it just right. Then, once the dough is ready, it’s cranked all the way up in execution, intensity of flavor, and presentation.

It arrives at the table as three elements plated in a straight line; the round Moi Moi cake is in the middle, topped with a lemon mousse made from the fermented grain pudding Ogi. To one side is a lighter, silkier pureed version of Moi Moi kicked up with even more chile. On the other side there is a piece of smoked trout, crispy skin curling up like a tuile on a French dessert, dressed with a punchy Ata red pepper sauce.

The earthy black-eyed peas are matched with bright, floral habanero chiles ground into the cake. The trout is sharp with a smoke flavor that cuts through the palm oil and peppers in the Ata. And the lemon Ogi smoothes the whole thing out, a blanket of sweet and tart over the top. Each element is delicious on its own—in particular that Ata, which is good enough to be eaten with a spoon—but together they make a luxurious, complete, and well-rounded dish. It may not be as famous as Jollof or as sexy as the Pepper Soup poured tableside from a steaming kettle, but this Moi Moi is a symposium on balance.

Moi Moi at Ilé
Photo by Katie Jones, courtesy of Moi Moi

Or balance to a palate comfortable with some heat, at least—there is plenty of habanero in it, enough to flush the real estate developer’s cheeks red. Although maybe that’s the vodka he brought with him, which David Olusoga, Chef Eros’ partner in Ilé, graciously offered to mix into a cocktail, and which the real estate developer insisted they do as shots together instead. He has officially graduated to three-quarters drunk now. The dinner is BYOB, and whether that means a bottle of crisp white wine to share with a few people at the table or a bottle of liquor to knock back in rounds is up to you.

The Moi Moi is only the second course, you are less than a third of the way through the meal, but by the time it arrives you know everything about your dining companions and something about Chef Eros—and it’s clear that you will learn more. Between the convivial atmosphere and his dramatic storytelling, it creates an unusual feeling of comfortable anticipation, like a dinner party with friends you still feel the need to impress.

Ilé translates to home in Yoruba, and it’s clear why Chef Eros and Olusoga chose that name. Chef Eros is far from the home of his childhood, but that’s okay—he’s bringing his West African cuisine and culture here, placing it under the brightest spotlight he can, and building a new home in LA, one dinner at a time.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat!

Ben Mesirow is an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in The LA TimesLitroMcSweeney’s Internet TendencyLos Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.