No Restaurant, No Problem: Home Chefs Cooking Out of Their Kitchens

When #EatDrinkFestival started a couple years ago, one of its primary objectives was to shine a light on home chefs without physical locations. For these chefs, who create amazing stuff out of their kitchens, cooking is not only a means of survival in a city like Lagos, it’s also a way of expressing and staying true to themselves. 

Oh, and it makes them some money. 

I talked to a few chefs who cook out of their kitchens in Lagos, to get a perspective of what it’s like creating magic in a city that is fast-paced and sometimes brutal. 


Image from iOS.jpg

Who? Chez Ro

Rotimi aka Chez Ro aka Kitchen Beyonce (according to his twitter profile) is a stylist turned chef who started cooking and creating dishes on a whim after a friend asked him to cater to a small party. Feeling like a badass investigative journalist, I talked to him about his journey so far as a chef creating magic from his personal kitchen in a city like Lagos.

How and when did you discover that you enjoy cooking? Was there any defining moment?

I’ve always loved to cook. I don’t think There’s was a specific time that a realization came. It has just always come so naturally to me. As far back as I can possibly remember.

What is the most difficult part of being a food vendor in Lagos?

One of the most difficult parts of being a food vendor in Lagos I would have to say is delivery. It honestly is such a hassle. From bad roads to traffic, to poor dispatch services. Literally everything is a hassle once the food has left your kitchen. Ugh. Sigh. It is well. Whoever will hack logistics and be able to execute it seamlessly will probably be the richest person ever. (No brainer Jeff Amazon).

Do you do most of your cooking out of your personal kitchen at home?

I do pretty much all of my cooking from my personal kitchen. For multiple reasons but mostly convenience.

How do you separate what is “client food” from “home food”? 

Client food is literally made to specifics. So every meal is different. Also, they’re not cooked at the same time. Client meals always come first. Once I make those and send them out, I focus on home food.

Any cases of missing food?

I’ve never had a case of missing food. However, I had a mix up one time. I mistakenly sent wrong packages and I had to refund part of someone’s money, while the other person got more than they ordered. Their luck I guess.


What is your signature dish?

My good sis. Signature recipe plenty dear. The agege club sandwich. Took a classic club and swapped sliced bread for agege bread. My rosemary rice, I invented that.  Also, my dressing is quite unique. 

Is it something you invented or a recipe you’ve adapted to make you own?

Thai pineapple fried rice. I took the classic Thai pineapple fried rice and put my own spin on it. 

Orange rice and orange chicken. Saw something similar somewhere, Took a few ideas from a few different dishes and melded them together to create something new.


 Did you go to culinary school?

Nope. No culinary school. Not yet. I may still attend one, definitely not in Nigeria. But honestly, I already know more than half of what I’d learn there. From my own research and experience. I’m completely self-taught. So if I do attend one, it honestly will be for the certification and not much else.

What is your favourite Nigerian spice?

This is a tough call but if I absolutely had to choose, it would have to be Uziza. Both the leaves and the seeds. It has such a wonderful, slightly numbing, minty and herby flavour in both the leaves and seeds.

How do you test the quality of the ingredients that you use?

I can be obsessive with whatever I’m doing, because of quality control. So I always go shopping myself. I try out a few brands and once I find one that I like, I almost never ever deviate from that. And because I am that precise, I always go to scout for it. It’s pretty much the same with the regular markets. I have the people I patronize because they already know the quality and freshness of the produce that I require.

What is your most unforgettable experience with a customer?

Unforgettable good or bad? Let me give you one small gist. I can never forget it. So someone ordered food for his madam or something of sorts. Then came back to tell me he got terrible feedback, sent screenshots of the feedback. That the food was horrible, the person barely ate it, the chicken was burnt. Also said the pasta I used was cheap because it was spaghettini (the slim spaghetti)And it was all in all horrible. 

Now what this person termed burnt was charring on the edges. Which is customary for anything grilled. It’s the whole essence of grilling. 

I apologized to the person who ordered, then told them that that’s the first time anyone had said such. And that everyone else who got their food said glorious things. So I told him that I’d send him the exact same meal for free the following week but he’d cover delivery. 

After two weeks, I send him the same meal, and he said it was so good that he had to fight his colleagues so they won’t finish the food, and he Didn’t know if it was specially made tasty for him and that he’d definitely order again. 

Whew Chile, the petty in me jumped out. I said “the hallmark of my brand is consistency, so my food tastes the same all the time. And this is exactly what your friend had and said it was terrible. “Says something about your friend's taste. Anyway, looking forward to your order”.

Not the best way to go but I couldn’t help it.

 

Who? Ugo Chiori

For Ugo Chiori, a third-generation baker, baking was always a part of her life and was something she adopted as a way to stay busy. It didn’t hurt that it made her some money after NYSC.  She moved to Lagos with a bag full of dreams and a small hand mixer. Three years later, she’s still baking and is making a name for herself through her cupcakes. 

How and when did you discover that you enjoy cooking? Was there any defining moment?

I didn't quite "discover" it. I'm a third-generation baker and growing up with an Efik mother, it was not surprising that I started cooking not just as a hobby, but also for business. i don’t think there was any defining moment, not quite. It's something that just happened. 

Image from iOS (3).jpg

What is the most difficult part of being a food vendor in Lagos?

Logistics. You book your dispatch rider to come by say 7:00 am, and by 10:00 am, he’s still 1 hour away. Having to pacify already disgruntled customers, and trying to beg the rider to hurry. Most times, they come early, but still do their own personal delivery before your own. So you find a delivery that should have been made by 8:00 am, hasn't been done by 3:00 pm. It's a big problem. 

Do you do most of your cooking out of your personal kitchen at home?

Yes, I work from my kitchen. 


How do you separate what is client food from home food? 

I have a pantry that is strictly for business purposes, and everything work is there.

Any cases of missing food?

Not in recent times. 

What is your signature dish?

Afang soup. And, my cupcakes. 

Is it something you invented or a recipe you’ve adapted to make you own?

They're already existing recipes, which I've adapted to my taste. No special ingredients, per se. I really just tend to tweak recipes a whole lot, and I'm always happy with the end results.

Did you go to culinary school?

No, I didn't. 

What is your favourite Nigerian spice?

For soup, crayfish. I love the way it switches up the taste of the soup. 

*spoken like a true Igbo babe.*


How do you test the quality of the ingredients that you use?

I source my soup ingredients from Uyo. I'm sure of the quality of the ingredients. For cakes, I make sure to use premium ingredients. A tad more expensive than others, but well worth it. 

Most unforgettable experience with a customer?

A customer was so pleased with a Valentine cake delivery I made to his fiance, that he sent me a huge amount of money to say "Thank you". I was so chuffed. He has remained one of my best customers.

 

Who? Chef Coco

Aisha Murphy, better known as Chef Coco, is cooking up a storm for clients when she isn’t listening to music or trying out new restaurants. 

View this post on Instagram

Good morning guys

A post shared by Chef coco (@cravngsbychefcoco) on

How and when did you discover that you enjoy cooking? Was there any defining moment?

I discovered that I loved cooking in my third year at university. Then started cooking officially in November 2016.

What is the most difficult part of being a food vendor in Lagos?

The most difficult part of being a food vendor in Lagos is logistics. As much as there are many logistics companies, no one has hacked food delivery for small businesses. The only way your daily meal deliveries can survive as a food vendor is if you have your own personal dispatch


Do you do most of your cooking out of your personal kitchen at home?

Yes I cook mainly from my house. Exceptions are outdoor events.


How do you separate what is client food from home food? 

Our ingredients are different plus I have a separate store and freezer for clients. 

WhatsApp Image 2019-09-26 at 11.04.04 AM.jpeg

Any cases of missing food?

No, never.


What is your signature dish?

I have a signature pancake recipe. It’s a recipe I’ve adapted to make my own

Is it something you invented or a recipe you’ve adapted to make you own?

I add homemade buttermilk and yoghurt to my pancakes.

Did you go to culinary school?

Yes I went to Reddish Chronicles

Was it worth every kobo or an absolute waste of money?

It was worth every penny.

What is your favourite Nigerian spice?

My favourite spices change from time to time. Recently I made my own Yaji (suya spice recipe) with Nigerian spices, it’s currently my fave. I add a  mix of, Cameroon pepper, sage, chilli pepper and paprika. This recipe is for chicken.

The mix for beef is different and seafood.

How do you test the quality of the ingredients that you use?

It’s really the freshness. I buy directly from farms because of that freshness. 

Most unforgettable experience with a customer?

A client once gave me extra money after a private dinner.

 

One thing I gathered from talking to all these chefs, outside of their obvious love of creating special meals, was the obvious and pressing need for a *maybe* food-only dispatch service in Lagos. I think anyone who can crack that would probably make a sum of money each day, even with companies like ORide and Max, dispatch riders are still very much in high demand because well… traffic in Lagos is a real thing.

Don’t believe me? Type in “dispatch rider” into your search bar on twitter and check the tweets.

I’m always looking for how to secure the bag for you guys, so you’re welcome.