Posts in Chefs
Hey Eater! Came to Lagos

This weekend was an exciting one, because we’ve been following Hey Eater and @didunho for a couple years now and we finally got to attend one of her events. She mostly hosts pop up events in London where she’s based and has only held one other event in Lagos before now, so when we saw something was happening in Lagos, we were over joyed. Our excitement was so much so, that we decided to reschedule Trivia Night to Sunday over its usual Saturday slot.

We ordered one of each thing from the menu below.

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July 13th ! Reserve tickets ASAP 💥

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We figured it’ll make sense that way because we’d get a chance to try everything and split it between ourselves. A good idea in theory but in real life as you can see the portions were pretty small.

Messy Burger

beef burger patty, braised short rib, cheese sauce, crunchy slaw, brioche, rosemary and truffle fries

Popcorn Chicken

yaji popcorn chicken, buttermilk biscuit and honey butter

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Gnocchi

plantain gnocchi, roasted pepper sauce, basil, mixed leaf salad

Doughnut

blossom sugar puff doughnut, supermalt icecream, salted caramel

If you’re in the Abuja area, you can try out @didunho’s food at The Pavillion Restaurant at Atelier hotels. She’s the executive chef there!

Chef Imoteda's Nigerian Fusion Food Tour Kicks Off This Weekend

Friend of the blog and occasional collaborator, Chef Imoteda of Heels in the Kitchen, is taking the Nigerian Fusion Food Tour to London this weekend. Now in its third year, the Nigerian Fusion Food Tour is Imoteda’s little way doing “Nigeria to the world” like Wizkid. That’s Wizkid’s thing, right? 

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Jokes aside, the goal of the tour is to export the tastes and flavours of Nigerian cuisine to the, well, the world. In our interview with Chef SiA last week, she referenced the abundance of vibrant ingredients we have in Nigeria and Imoteda shares the same sentiment. Beyond jollof (and amala that you people have forced on us), there’s so much to Nigerian food. We have a very diverse cultures and they have their own contributions to Nigerian cuisine. 

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For the 2019 edition, the NFFT’s them is “Owambe”. A couple new chefs will join her on her various stops and it should be plenty fun. You can get tickets by clicking any of the buttons below

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Check out the menu:

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ABUJA: Fine Dining in a Casual Space at Hélène's
 
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Hélène's Food Co., a gourmet restaurant run by Chef Emeka, is tucked away in the industrial district of Jahi amidst other shopping complexes and housing estates. It’s not a location where you'd expect to find an upscale gastronomical experience. I definitely didn’t expect to find an alumni of Le Cordon Bleu (Paris) either. The building itself was quite nondescript with a certain emptiness that I knew I would not be comfortable with after dark.

On the inside, it’s a different story. It looks like my home. Well, my home if I execute my vision board.

The space is open-plan style with an actual built in kitchen. “Homey” rather than “upscale” springs to mind. There was a comfy-looking settee, which I was offered because my friend was running late.

I loved the cute yellow dinner plates on the already-set table, but the crockery and cutlery were about 50% short of what a fine-dining dinner table requires. I quickly reset my expectations for the evening while the earnest staff fetched me complimentary water and the menu.

(Ed Note: Hélène's is more bistro than fine dining)

The prices aren’t listed on the menu and I think it is deliberate, lest potential customers have a heart attack on an empty stomach.

More on this later.

My friend and I got the duck starter from the March Dinner Menu - Helene’s refreshes the menu monthly. I opted for the fish for my main and my friend ordered the chicken. A complimentary slice of sourdough bread was served while I waited for my starter. It certainly wasn’t sourdough and it didn’t come warm, but I ate it because I was hungry and the butter made it all better.

The drink menu at Helene’s is severely limited, but I guess that’s not the point of Hélène's. I wanted some orange juice, but they had run out so I had to settle for water.

Duck - Pan seared duck breast, deep fried cauliflower, pepper roasted cauliflower, cauliflower puree and strawberry jus

Duck - Pan seared duck breast, deep fried cauliflower, pepper roasted cauliflower, cauliflower puree and strawberry jus

As each meal came out, it was immediately obvious that they were prepared with the utmost care, which justified the wait time. The presentation and the taste were five-star. The cauliflower puree in my duck starter melted on my tongue and left a party of flavours in my mouth.

Even without a trace of chilli in any of their dishes, everything was not only delightful but served on warm plates.

Fish - Nile Perch two ways, potato and butter bean puree, smoked fish croquettes and spring onions

Fish - Nile Perch two ways, potato and butter bean puree, smoked fish croquettes and spring onions

The wait staff were not loitering in that annoying way they do at some restaurants but each time I caught the waiter’s eye, he came bouncing towards me energetically like an eager-to-please puppy.

We chose to share one dessert, the mango sorbet, and it was certainly the piece de resistance.

(Ed Note: Chef Emeka graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Paris with a Grande Diplome in Cuisine and Patisserie)

Mango sorbet, coconut lime sponge, coconut lime curd and vanilla tuille

Mango sorbet, coconut lime sponge, coconut lime curd and vanilla tuille

Perfectly sculpted frozen pureed mango balls married well with the coconut and lime flavours. I suspect that the sponge was made a day or two in advance as it was neither warm nor fluffy.

(Ed Note: There’s no hard and fast rule on sponge cake temperature)

An inspection of the restroom facilities led me to a foul stench from the men’s stall. I was glad I visited after my meal because the odour was enough to put me off. I expected more of a powder room but I got a lavatory.

When I saw the bill, I was shocked!

Forty-five thousand naira for two starters, two mains, one dessert and some drinks was a bit much. The food was certainly impressive but to justify those prices, Chef Emeka must upgrade the space, facilities and service to match the quality of the food.

 

VERDICT

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DAMAGE

The March Dinner Menu - N20,000

Chef SiA is Coming for Lagos

The word “chef” has, for the most part, been abused in Lagos. You see it on instagram all the time. Someone makes a couple plates for friends and in no time, a “chef” is prepended to the name.

That’s not Simi Ajibodu, however.

From culinary school to a Michelin-starred kitchen, Simi, also known Chef SiA, has put in the hours and earned the title. We got a chance to speak to her ahead of her popup in Lagos this weekend.


Tell us a bit about SiA. How did you get into the industry?

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I’ve actually always wanted to be a chef. When I was in boarding school they used to offer “Food Tech” classes, and so when I got to A-Levels, I had a big decision to make. Do I want to do Food Tech or do I want to be a lawyer? Naturally, it became a huge conversation in the family.  I was asked “what are you going to do with Food Tech?”

Umm, become a chef. Obviously. 

And they were like that’s not really a profession. I was like okay, let’s go out to be a lawyer. I actually applied to the University of Kent to do Law and I realised it wasn’t for me halfway through so I ended up switching courses to American Studies just to go to uni. After that, I got into the workforce and hated the whole 9-5. I decided to leave it and go to culinary school. It was huge decision because I was leaving a comfortable job to pursue something I had no clue about. If not for the support of the people around me, I don’t think I’d have made it to the other side. 

I applied to the Le Cordon Bleu (London) and started in January 2014. Before then, I romanticised what it meant to be a chef. Based on reading books, going food festivals, and watching TV shows - everything I thought I knew about being a chef was wrong. No one tells you that you have to be on your feet 12 hours a day or you have to pull long hours. You also have to more or less sacrifice your social life if this is the dream you want to pursue.

Your first job...

The first job I ever got was a week after I graduated from culinary school, I worked at CUT at 45 Park Lane.

As much as they teach you about these things [in culinary school], reality slaps you in the face HARD. I used to wake up at 3am for a 5am shift. I’d do breakfast, do lunch, go home to sleep and be back at it the next day. 

I was like, “wow, this is what people actually go through?”. We sit in restaurants and think, “oh, this food is lovely, this service is great”,  but we don’t know the grind that truly goes on. It gave me more appreciation for things that go on in the kitchen. For example, back in the day, I probably wouldn’t have paid service charge. My service wasn’t great so why should I pay for it? Then I got to understand the difference between service charge, VAT, and taxes. I started asking questions. 

Is this going to the whole kitchen? 

Is it going to my server? 

Who am I tipping exactly? 

If what I’m tipping is going to the whole kitchen, I will always gladly pay for it. Just because you have a bad experience with waiter doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve had a bad experience with the food. I’m not sure you understand what I mean. 

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Makes sense. 

From the Dorchester, I went a little restaurant called The Gallery. If you know where Saatchi Gallery is in Chelsea, then you know where it is. I think that’s where I got a lot of my experience as a young chef. The head chef, Andy, really took me under his wing. Not just the cooking side of things, but also, the front office. He taught me how to make and order supplies, how to understand stock levels, etc. It’s not just making the food and setting the prices, there’s a lot that goes into it. Basically, he taught me how to run a kitchen the right way. I think that’s the biggest lesson I ever learnt.

I thought to myself, “I can actually run a kitchen”.

A few years go by and I started focusing on private dining to understand what the customers want from Fine Dining and their understanding of it. Is it just about going to fancy restaurants or would they like that kind of service at home? While I was dabbling with that, the opportunity at IKOYI came up. 

I actually found the job through instagram. I messaged the guys like “hey, I’m interested in working for you guys” and they told me to come through. We had a chat and he gave me the job on the spot. All of us in the [IKOYI] kitchen are 32 and under, and it drives the point that young chefs can actually do what we’re doing.  We can run a restaurant and run it successfully. Age doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you have the right experience.

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I’ve always been curious, what is it like at IKOYI? Or at any top level restaurant actually. What’s the structure?

Everywhere that I’ve worked, there’s a form of hierarchy. The bigger the restaurant, the more bureaucratic it is in my opinion. While I was at the Dorchester, we had this culture where as soon as you step in the door, you must shake everyone’s hand. It didn’t matter if you like them or not, you must do it. You also say “good morning” or “good afternoon” depending the time you start [your shift]. You do the same thing when you’re leaving. You have to clock in and clock out for your breaks. It doesn’t matter if you are in the shits (when you have so much prep that needs to be done), they don’t care. Everything was really structured and regimented. I didn’t really enjoy it. 

Then, I got to IKOYI and it’s very different. As much as Jeremy is the head chef, we all contribute our ideas. We’re all in it together and there’s more of a camaraderie. We’re the sort of people that straight from work, everyone can go out to grab drinks and have fun regardless of how service went. We all have a sense of loyalty and trust in each other.  You need that sense of “this person has my back”. If I can’t get food out on time, this person is going to help me. For me, that’s one of the reasons I really like where I am right now. 

In terms of structure, everyone has their positions but everyone does everything. Today, I can be on sides. Tomorrow, I can be on the grill. If the person washing the pots and pans doesn’t show up, I can step in to do it. There’s no demeaning job. One job isn’t more important than the other. 

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When Ikoyi got that Michelin star, I was so excited on multiple levels. First, there’s the patriotic pride in the fact it’s partly Nigerian owned and Nigerian inspired.  Second, Ire was like 3 years my [Nosa’s] senior  in secondary school. It’s “famz”, but knowing someone that owns a Michelin starred restaurant is so crazy. I’m so far removed from it and I was so excited so I can only imagine how exciting it was for you to actually work in that kitchen. What’s it like to work in the kitchen following the star? Is there extra pressure?

Funny enough, we were not expecting it. A lot of people expect the star or expect some sort of honourable mention. We were not expecting it at all. When we got the email, Jeremy was like “Simi, can you take a look at this. Is this real or is someone playing a prank?”. 

All of us had a look at it.

Then, we got the follow up email, which did not look like a prank. We were all in shock. All of a sudden, people started congratulating us. We’re still in shock till this day. 

Following that, I’d say the only difference is that we got busier. People that didn’t understand what West African fusion was got to understand it. We had to handle the fact that on a given night where we’d be doing 40 covers, we were now doing 90 covers. We’re still riding off the high of the Michelin star. It’s still busy and people still congratulate us. Last week, someone sent a gift to congratulate us on the star.

There’s also more of an international recognition. We get a lot of foreigners that come through and one of the reasons why they come to London is because they want to visit IKOYI after hearing about it from someone else. I can meet random people and when they ask where I work, I say IKOYI and they know about it. It’s quite cool.

How did you guys celebrate when you got the star? Did you go to a fancy dinner or something?

Oh no, we went to Shake Shack

[laughs]

Literally, that’s what we did. I mean, we’re young. For us, if you want to eat good food, you can eat good food anywhere but most times you go somewhere affordable and cheap where you can just wind down. And not some fancy place that tells you to wear a jacket.

Fair enough. Ok, something a bit more personal. You had your first popup in Lagos in December and you have a couple more lined up for this year. 

Chicken Risotto by Chef SiA

Chicken Risotto by Chef SiA

So, last December was actually not my first popup. My first popup was back in 2015. It was market research for me. I invited about 20 people and served a 7 course menu. I just wanted to get feedback from people. 

"Did you like the food?” “What would you eat differently?” " Would you want a more fine dining service?” “Do you want something more casual?” “Are the portions just enough?”

And I got a lot of good feedback from it. The only thing I wasn’t sure of was: were they giving me good feedback because the food was free? Or did they actually enjoy the food? I had to go back to the drawing board to understand what I would do differently. I also needed to get more experience because I was still a young chef. That’s when the Roundtable series came to life in December. I’d actually gone to do a lot of research on how I’d like to eat at home in Nigeria.


Is there a reason you’re looking at Lagos more? I mean, it’s a good thing but I wanted to understand why.

There’s access to great food everywhere else in the world, but in my opinion, we don’t have modern fine dining in Nigeria. Or even in Lagos, more specifically. I decided that even if people don’t know me, I don’t want to be known as a private dining chef. I want to be known as someone that’s trying to change the culinary game in Lagos. And then Nigeria, then Africa, then the world. 

Rather than starting in London, I wanted to start in Lagos because there’s a lot of great access to produce. For example, our puna yam. When we have them in London, I’m not guaranteed that it’s coming straight from Ogun State.  I want Ogun State puna yam because it has a particular flavour and texture that I’m not going to be able to get in London.

My aim for next few months is to come back home and build awareness about how interesting our food is and how imaginative we can be as well. That’s why I’m doing a restaurant style popup as well as the second edition of the Roundtable series. 

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Are you ever going to move back and set up something here? Is that something that’s in your plans?

It’s actually a goal of mine but I’m very specific about the space that I want in terms of the ambiance and right now property in Lagos is bloody expensive.

[Laughs]


I agree.

A lot of the new spaces are in VI and some of those locations are leaseholds. Some of them are more or less renovated [houses]. They’re are not new buildings and I want to do that.  I want to build something from scratch. I don’t want to lease a property, I want to be able to afford to buy it and build it the way I want to build it. I want to take my time with it because if I rush it and I fail, I will not have the confidence to do it again. I’m going to take my time and hopefully in 2-3 years, I can save, build and introduce myself as Chef SiA. 


Tell us a bit about the menu for the Round Table later this week. I had a look at it yesterday and I noticed a lot of familiar elements, like plantains, but in unfamiliar places like a plantain macaron.  

[Laughs]

The funny thing about the plantain macaron is that a friend of mine said, “Simi, you don’t do too many things with plantain. Plantain is in every other dish in Lagos.”

I thought to myself that we could do a plantain macaron. What’s stopping us from infusing plantain flavour into it. What is gizdodo, for example? Can I infuse gizdodo into a macaron? In one bite, something sweet and something savoury that’ll make people go “Oh my God! I ate gizdodo but it did not look like gizdodo”. I want people to go away thinking it was different and cool. That’s the idea behind the plantain macaron. 

For the rest of the menu, I wanted to do things that featured almost everyday in our [Nigerian] food. For example, chicken. Chicken is in everything we eat but honestly, I am not a fan of chicken. I think it’s a dry bird but I know how to make it juicy if I need to. Another thing we eat often is ram. Nigerians love our public holidays and we’re always celebrating one thing or the other, and if we’re not getting our Sallah meat from one our of Muslim friends, we’ve not really celebrated. So I thought I’d bring an element of that into the menu and introduce something different. 

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My menu is truly inspired by basic Nigerian ingredients that we can get anywhere. It’s meant to be something that looks exciting but something people think they can do at home, but they really can’t. So that they always come back and eat at my establishment

[Laughs]

A lot of it is just me sitting at thinking if I can do things like okra ice cream. Is that something that’s plausible? If I strain the tanginess out of okra, put in some sugar and blitz it, will I be able to get candied okra? Can I use it as a garnish? That’s more or less what happens in my head everyday and I experiment. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, then I go back to the drawing board. 


Is there anything you brought to a menu that didn’t work and you had to toss it aside?

Yes, actually. There’s this particular dish that still bothers me. The egusi dish that I did at my last event had a lot of mixed feelings about it. Like, straight down the middle feelings. It bothered me. Why was it such a subjective dish? Did people think it was too close to hime and I didn’t reinvent it enough? I didn’t toss it aside per se but it bothered me. I need to go back to the drawing board so that it comes across as something that’s different but also familiar. 


Final question: what’s next for Chef SIA?

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My main focus now is taking Nigeria to the world. Even though Africa hasn’t been on the map with regards to the Michelin Guide or World’s Best Foods etc, we have something to offer. We can also produce quality food at a good price. That’s my main goal - to reinvent Nigerian cuisine and make it more accessible to everyone.

Right now, I’m trying to do more events and collaborate with more people. I’m also trying to focus on female chef empowerment. Especially here in London. The female chef is seen as second class to the male chef. All the “celebrity chefs” are male. I know there are a lot of female chefs doing a lot of great things in the background and we don’t always hear too much about them. One of my goals is to try to bring the female chef out into the open. To say that we’re here and we stand for something, and do great food as well.

In terms of my personal brand, I’m just trying to hustle out there. To let people know that I am Chef SiA, also known as Simisola Idowu Ajibodu. I’m a mother, a wife, and also a great ass chef. Come and eat my food. Let me know what you think. I’m here to have conversations about food, wine, Nigerian agriculture and how we can reinvent it. 

Thank you so much.


Chef SiA will be in Lagos this month hosting two popups. Her first, at Black Olive in Ikoyi, will take place on March 15 and 16. While her second, at The Metaphor, will take place on March 23. To make a reservation for either, send an email to info[at]chefsiaa[dot]com.

The Eat.Drink.Lagos Guide to a Valentine’s Day That Doesn’t Suck

Valentine’s Day is about a week away and it’s a huge night for dining out in Lagos. If you think you’re going to dodge the inevitable overpriced set menus, you must be new here.Eat.Drink.Lagos is for the people so we are here to guide you through the minefield of cheesy messaging and price-fixe dinners. 

This guide is designed for the lads in the house because I know this is the one period you all visit this site. 

Flowers

The Flower Shop

Delis - 1291 Akin Adesola St, Victoria Island.

Because I grocery shop at Deli’s a lot, I’ve used these guys before. 10/10. Would recommend. They close at 6:00pm.


Aralia by Nature

The Palms Shopping Mall, Lekki

Aralia by Nature is another flower shop that I’ve heard very good things about. They close at 6:30pm if you considering a run at COB. 


Sweet Treats

Honey’s Cupcakes

Honey’s Cupcakes is one of my favourite bakers in Lagos and she’s a definite go-to if you want something beyond the standard “cake and cupcake” most bakers in Lagos do. For Valentine’s Day, she has special collection for the month only. 

Cookie Lab

I’ve only had it twice but Cookie Lab is already my favourite cookie in Lagos. For starters, they’re soft cookies and not those hard things every other baker seems to make. That’s “biskeet” not a cookie, please. 

ALSO: Tomorrow is the last day to order.


Dupe’s Bakery

Never had her stuff before, but Ronke, of The Sweet Spot, says she’s really good and bakers are definitely subject matter experts on baking things. For Valentine’s Day, she’s making 2-inch heart-shaped loaves for N4000. 


Vanilla Bakehouse 

Vanilla Bakehouse went on hiatus for the longest time, but they’re back just in time for Valentine’s Day. Praise be. 


Eats

Plated Memoirs

If a work lunch is more your speed, Plated Memoirs and Funa are collaborating on a special Valentine’s Day menu. There’s also more expansive breakfast and lunch trays, which come with roses and champagne if you ask nicely.



Intime by Chef Fregz

63 Awolowo Rd, Ikoyi

This year, Chef Fregz will be at Black Olive in Ikoyi with a 4-course dinner with complimentary wine from  Winestitute & Bloem. There’ll be two seatings: 5pm, for the lads who skip work early, and 8pm. 

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Chef Imoteda at SABOR

14 Adeola Hopewell St, Victoria Island

For one night only, Chef Imoteda of Heels in the Kitchen will be taking over the kitchen at SABOR. Her 5-course dinner has Suya Onion Jam in there. 


La Taverna

48 Balarabe Musa Cres, Victoria Island

La Taverna is one of my favourite places in Lagos and for Valentine’s Day, they have probably the most affordable of the prix-fixe menus. 

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Chef Obehi at Artisan Lounge

14 Anifowoshe St, Victoria Island

The flyer isn’t the greatest, but she’s really excellent in the kitchen. We got invited for a dinner at Miele one time and she was cooking. It was so so good. But yes, the flyer is a disaster.

Talindo

7 Karimu Kotun St, Victoria Island

One of the most consistent restaurants in Lagos. You’ll pay a pretty penny, but it’ll be very worth it.

Honorable Mention

Woks & Koi

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