Food is a serious business and as such it requires a deliberate and conscious effort to always deliver quality and long-lasting dining experience in the minds of diners. If not restaurateurs who else sees to this long-lasting dining experience?.
A restaurant is a place where diners get to experience the joy and dexterity of comfort food. As already established the role of restaurateurs but also with the help of an in-house team member known as the Brigade de Cuisine ranging from the executive chef to the waiter/waitress they act as the backbone of any restaurant business.
The search for the next restaurateur is on. The Kitchen, a culinary program presented by MasterCard and brought to you by Lost in a City, a monthly magazine issue that celebrates the uniqueness and discovers food, drinks, and lifestyle experiences around cities.
As part of the culinary program the finalists MoyosoreOluwa Odunfa, Oluwaseun Tandoh, Vanessa Cole, and Seyilogo Braithwaite have been slated to host a Pop-Up Restaurant in September, and October.
The Kitchen finalists featured on this special edition of My Cookery Zone Exclusive Interview, they speak on their experience as chefs and restaurateurs.
MoyosoreOluwa Odunfa is a chef, Youtuber, avid reader and closet speaker. She believes food is powerful especially because food triggers nostalgia. For her Bachelors degree, Moyo studied International Business in Culinary Arts at the Culinary Arts Academy of Switzerland and is currently completing her masters in marketing at London School of Design and Marketing. Presently, she work as a Chef de Partie at Itan Test Kitchen, exploring Nigerian food in all its beauty and honing her skills in an amazing and dynamic team.
When did you start aspiring to be a restaurateur?
My aspiration to be a restauranteur is rooted in my desire to share my love for storytelling and cuisine. About 2 years ago, as I delved deeper into the beauty of Nigerian cuisine, it became more apparent how beautiful it would be to be able to share this cuisine in a unique way.
What inspired your menu Atije?
My menu Atije is inspired by the literal meaning of Atije- How We Eat. The beauty and versatility of Nigerian culture and everything that sustains us, from the land to the sea to the trees and the air. Our provenance and terroir is inherently inspiring due to our diversity and this is my continual inspiration.
What’s your utmost goal as a restaurateur?
My goal as a restauranteur is to share the beauty of Nigerian cuisine through triggering feelings of nostalgia. Satisfying guests in ways that feed their minds, souls and bodies.
Do you see more women aspiring to become a restaurateur?
Yes, I see many more women entering the hospitality and culinary industries at high level positions because they can and because they have so much to bring to the table. Women bring empathy, love and unique perspectives on how to share who we are and improve our representation as Nigerians, chefs and restauranteurs. Women bring so much strength and enrichment to the industry and I cannot wait to see more of it.
Seyilogo Braithwaite is a chef and founder of Beezus Kitchen. Seyilogo is into food photography, catering and recipe development. She is also a finalist on The Kitchen.
When did your restaurateur journey begin?
My restaurateur journey began when I applied for the show. Currently, I own a cloud kitchen which solely operates on a delivery basis as well as event catering. It’s been official for under a year so we are still in the infant stages. I do have a restaurant space already thanks to my supportive parents. However, I’m still trying to get more experience in the field so that I can open the best restaurant in lagos maybe in a year or two.
Is the restaurant business in Nigeria one to venture into?
Yes, I think the restaurant business in Nigeria is one to venture into. Currently, there is an abundance of restaurants here and not enough good ones. One thing restaurants here lack is consistency – in food, service and ambience. Very few restaurants have all three. And it’s really difficult to pull them all off but I believe that it’s possible with the right drive, passion and team. It’s a competitive business but there aren’t so many amazing restaurants so it’s still pretty cool to get into. There’s also the issue of more than half of the country being in poverty. It might be hard to keep doors open considering the wealth situation in the country. It’s definitely an industry to get into – but with a lot of caution.
Do you think having a restaurant experience should be only open to those who appreciate fine dining?
No, I don’t believe so. It would be hypocritical of me because I wouldn’t call my restaurant pop-up last weekend fine dining.
There are so many different types of cuisines, themes and experiences that are great and should be shared with the world! Personally, I loved my time in SE-Asia and wanted to transport my diners there.
But equally, I’ve been to a restaurant in London where they literally sell cereal and people rush in there. It doesn’t have to be fine dining to be a good restaurant. As long as the ambience, the vibe and the decor tie in with the food and service, you can have a very successful restaurant. Besides, I don’t think fine dining restaurants work here. Nigerians don’t like to be told what to eat and when to eat it. Imagine telling an Aunty that they must order a 5 course meal and the menu is set? They don’t like that. I would also venture to say that most Nigerians don’t really appreciate the concept of fine dining. So it’s definitely restrictive to say that only fine dining restaurants should be in operation.
Does your 3-course menu require time, energy, and a lot of dedication to execute? Tell us more about it
My 3-course menu does require a lot of time and energy. I started prepping for a few days before the event. South East Asian cuisine is really all about the flavours; sweet, sour, spicy and salty. I had to make 14 different sauces just for this three course menu so it’s been a lot of work.
However, in terms of the cooking itself, it’s quite quick. As long as the prep is immaculate everything else will go smoothly.
Vanessa Cole professionally known as Chef Vee, is a private chef. Vanessa runs a food company called Cole Cooks!
What was the journey like before emerging as a finalist on The Kitchen?
I am a private chef. I own my own company called Cole Cooks! I have clients book me to come to their houses to create bespoke dining experiences for them. I love what I do and I love seeing all my clients feel special.
In what way are you as a chef and restaurateur infusing Nigerian ingredients into your menu?
I work with Nigerian ingredients and spices and incorporate them into Euro/Asian cuisine. My food doesn’t necessarily seem Nigerian at first sight but it definitely hits certain nostalgic feelings once you taste it. My aim is to use flavours from Africa and the diaspora to intensify my dishes.
Do you think Nigerians and Africans at large appreciate fine dining?
I think we are just about getting there. But we have a long way to go still. We are a baby industry in fine dining. There are a lot of restaurants coming about trying to offer fine dining which means the market is growing. But I feel we haven’t tapped into the full element of what fine dining truly is. It is not just about presentation but about the refinement of techniques, the blend of flavour, texture and feeling. Once we truly appreciate the holistic standard of fine dining we will see more restaurants excite customers with quality and consistency and keep them coming back.
How will you describe your style of cooking?
My cooking is comforting and elegant. I like to play in that fine line of providing high quality food, explosive flavours yet satisfying dishes. My food style is deeply rooted in nostalgic feelings of comfort food, and using those memories to create new and exciting dishes, merging flavours and influences from different cultural backgrounds.
Oluwaseun Tandoh is a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef who has aspirations to be the first Nigerian chef to have a Michelin star. He studied Accounting and Financial Management from the University of Sheffield and an MSc in International Business from Coventry University before chasing his true passion, cooking.
According to Oluwaseun, “It was a struggle convincing everyone that this was my true calling. Its therapeutic to me and decided to make a career out of what brings me joy. I decided to take it seriously and convinced my Father to send me to my first culinary school, Leith’s school of food and wine as just a hobby. I moved back to Nigeria shortly after and that’s what ignited the passion. I saw that Nigerians were beginning to embrace the culinary world and this was the best time to get into this industry and 7 years later, I am glad I made that decision. “
Do you think cooking is revolutionary for men?
According to Escoffier, he modelled the kitchen system using the Brigade system of the military. This system was based on a strict chain of command and a separation and delegation of tasks to a host of different kitchen workers. … Just as in the military, the chain of command is never brooked, and the kitchen is run with extreme precision. This is more conducive for men in my own opinion as we are more resilient to the stress of the kitchen as men are regarded as stronger beings in general.
Basically, we can take the Heat.
Do you consider it necessary for every chef to at least have the restaurant experience or work in a restaurant kitchen?
Initially, when I started chasing my dream I thought going to culinary school was all that was required to be a good chef but, the more I got to understand the culinary industry I figured out that experience is the best teacher.
My first proper chef job was in Belgium, a 2 Michelin starred restaurant called Hostellerie Le fox. It was at this place I realised the difference between going to culinary school and actually serving upper class clients meals day after day ensuring consistence, perfection and a certain oomph that makes this restaurant a 2 Michelin starred restaurant.
I staged in the pastry section, although I was a cuisine student in school. It was the best mistake that could have happened. I learned about how the basic things like hitting the macaroon on the table to let the bubbles out before putting it in the oven was one of the most important aspects of creating macaroons. This implies “Mise en Place”, French for getting everything ready before service is the most important factor in the kitchen. If you’re Mise en place isn’t ready just get ready to be bashed. It’s a lot of pressure but, hours are relaxed. I had two shifts daily from 9am till 2pm for lunch service and 6pm till 11pm /12 am for dinner service.
When I moved to America, a ski resort in Aspen Colorado, called The Little Nell, it was a whole different ball game. It wasn’t a Michelin starred restaurant but, a Relais & Châteaux. They are categorised as buildings with not more than 100 rooms with more employees than rooms to ensure perfect service. It was a mad house every day. I understood what it took to work under serious pressure where a tartar and caviar dish has to be served with precision on the plate in under 8 minutes. I had already learned the importance of mise en place from Belgium but, this was a whole different level. We had no time schedule, you could work for 12 hours, 10 days in a row on a normal work period.
The only reason The Little Nell was not a Michelin starred restaurant, was cause they could not afford to get fresh produce up in the cold mountains of Aspen. The hotel in Belgium on the other hand was located on the beach and could get fresh lobsters, scampi/ langoustine, shrimp etc. from the local fisher man. The restaurant in Belgium has had their 2 Michelin Star as far back as 1991 and they have maintained it since then. That is an extra-ordinary fit because it’s extremely hard to be perfect and consistent at the same time.
What is the unifying ingredient that describes your menu?
The Unifying ingredient is butter. There is something I was taught in school called “Monter au beurre” implying adding cold butter to a hot sauce. I use this French technique to uplift all my dishes and that could be considered as my unifying ingredient.
Where does Seun see restaurant business in Nigeria in nearest future?
I see the restaurant industry on the same level as the music industry in the nearest future. Everyone is becoming more exposed getting to know the importance and intricacies that goes into opening a restaurant.
I am still learning about the business and as they say experience is the best teacher and I am going head 1st to learn everything that has to do with the restaurant business to create an empire of restaurants ranging from casual dining to fine dining restaurants offering services from the farm to the table.
Image: The Kitchen Nigeria / Instagram