Meet Maria Bradford

Founder, Shwen Shwen

My business is called Shwen Shwen, derived from the Krio language word for fancy, which describes how I style my food.

Our mission is simple. We are here to bring a whole new world of flavours to your door. Dinner parties, weddings, corporate events, we draw upon our Sierra Leonean colourful culture to bring people closer together through food and offer an authentic experience. Always with inspiration from traditional African recipes. And always with a distinctive Maria Bradford twist infused into each dish.

You call it ‘Fancy’. We call it Shwen Shwen.



Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I was born and raised in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. I have many fond childhood memories. Mainly to do with my fascination for age-old African recipes. Discovering fresh, local, flavoursome ingredients. And cooking for all my family and friends. My enduring love for the taste of home has taken me to this point. I have turned my life-long passion of food into a fulfilling business – bringing the reinvention of African dishes to a broader audience. This is my calling, and I love it!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I thought for many years that I wanted to be an accountant and it probably took me two decades to realise that this was not my calling.  I wish I had decided to go to catering school sooner and not spent time studying finance.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

So far I have not experienced any insurmountable challenges.  Catering in Sierra Leone and Liberia tested my skills, ingenuity and stress levels but they went well.  The publishing deal was quite intimidating at first, but I am in the thick of it now and am starting to feel more confident.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I was proud to get a feature in The Guardian’s OFM 50. That was pretty cool.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I am really lucky to have a supportive husband.  If I go abroad he can look after the kids or if I do an event he is there to pitch in and help.  I am also really grateful to many people in the Sierra Leonean community that have encouraged me and been a constant source of feedback.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

They say a mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself and I love the idea of that.  Service to others is a real joy, I know that from cooking.   I don’t think I have ever been a mentor but I certainly don’t hold back with advice and try to help people wherever I can.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for equality, what would it be?

Every person, everywhere, should have an equal chance to live up to their full potential.  The starting point is to raise awareness and understanding. It is a matter of fact that too many people on this planet have fewer opportunities than others.  Getting that message accepted is the beginning. 

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Having confidence in my own ability and going to culinary school instead of university.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

We are aiming to publish my debut cookbook, Sweet Salone in Spring 2023.  There’s a lot of work to put into that before it is ready for print but I am delighted to have the support of Quadrille Hardy Grant.  I hope to do the book launch in Sierra Leone and that will require a fairly serious plan and my team have a number of other project ideas which will need to start around the same time.

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