Posts tagged nok by alara
From Benin to Lagos: Chef Yacynthe's Road to Nok

This weekend, Nok is taking guests on a culinary journey to the Republic of Benin. Sous Chef, Yacynthe Aho, is sharing his favorite childhood dishes.

To get a better understanding of Nok’s head honcho and what to expect this Saturday, we short chat with him at the restaurant. He talks about his journey so far in Lagos and his vision for the future of food


Tell us a bit about your self. What’s your background?

Well, my name is Chef Yacynthe and I’m from Benin Republic. Before I started cooking, I went to school and I have my two certificates. They are French certificates and correspond with the National Diploma in Nigeria. So, it’s a National Diploma in Hotel Management. When I completed that, I came to Nigeria and I’ve been in Nigeria for 15 years now. 

You’ve been here for 15 years?

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“What is me is African food. What can I do to show African food to the whole world?”

Yes, I’ve been working here for 15 years.

What brought you to Nigeria?

I have a passion for cooking and I wanted to discover other countries. I wanted to discover both what they were doing in other countries and discover the spices they use. The first country that came to me in my dream was Nigeria and that’s why I’m here. 

Since you’ve been here, is there any spice in particular that you like?

Yeah, but it’s not only one. There are many spices I like in Nigeria. For example, the four corner spice (Ed note: Also known as Aridan). It has a nice flavor and the scent is perfect. They use it for a lot of dishes, you understand? There is another spice that they call Oso. It’s like beans. There’s a seed inside. Very black. When you use it to cook, it’s very nice. I’ve discovered a lot of spices in Nigeria.

What was your first job in the industry?

You know when you take a risk to leave your country and go to another country to express yourself, it’s not easy. My first job [in Nigeria] was with Protea Hotel and my first post at Protea was chef de partie. After two years, I left them and got another job at the Abibiz Restaurant in the international airport. I worked there as a chef de cuisine. I worked there for two years because if there is something I want, it is to meet people and discover their recipes and ingredients. That’s what inspired me to move from one restaurant to another. After I worked there, I got another offer at Morningside Suites Hotel. I was the Executive Chef there and I worked there for two years. 

It is after that, because I was working very hard, I was looking to work with people with the same vision as me. I was doing the continental dishes then, but one day, I said to myself: “That is not me, what is me is African food. What can I do to show African food to the whole world?”. 

To show people that, in Africa, we have something to offer. Because today, all of us are following other countries’ dishes and flavours but what about our own? That’s how I heard about Nok Restaurant. I came here and I met Chef Pierre. We had a discussion like I’m having a discussion with you and when I told him my vision, he said “Yacynthe, you’re the one to work with me at Nok”. 

That’s how I found myself at Nok today.

So what was like working with Chef Thiam?

Chef Yacynthe in his kitchen

Chef Yacynthe in his kitchen

Well, it was a very great time for me and I’ll say I’m very lucky to work with Chef Pierre because he’s my senior in the industry. He has the experience and he’s doing a lot of things with African food. So it was an opportunity to work with him to improve and today, to God’s glory, I’m doing better.

A lot of people like Nok. I’m sure you know this, but what do you think makes Nok special?

People like Nok because our standards are totally different. Our dishes are different. The spices we use are also different. We study those spices. We test them, test their flavors. We do the recipe tests again and again. When you want to be better, you need to do one thing again, again and again. At the end of the day, you get what you want. That’s what makes us different. And when you look for all these kinds of dishes in Africa today, it’s only at Nok you can get them. 

How do you keep things fresh and creative every time?

As I said before, we work very hard. We don’t sleep. Every second for us is an opportunity for us to have something new to offer to our customers. We do a lot of research. We go to many places: both to the local markets and international markets. We go there to discover all the spices so our customers can have different experiences. Not that you come today and you eat one thing, then you come the next day and eat the same thing. We study a lot and that’s how we come up with different dishes that make our guests happy. 

What do you love the most about being a chef and being in the industry?

For me, the reason I am a chef is that I can make other people happy with my dishes. The chef I am is not about the uniform or the name, but by what I present on the plate to my guests. That’s what makes me a chef. And when the guest eats and is happy, I’m happy too. It’s a passion. I feel like I’m in another world anytime I see myself in front of a guest or I present my food to a guest and he eats it with joy.

Ok, for the opposite. What would you say you hate?

As a human being, you must like something and you must hate something. What I hate most is that when i present a food to a guest and that plate comes back to the kitchen with the food, it makes me angry. It makes me want to discover what made the guest not like the food. 

You’re hosting a Chef’s Table this weekend. Tell us a bit about it. 

This Chef’s Table we’re about to do is something special. Special because when many people hear Benin Republic, they see it as a small country. They don’t know that even if it is small, something good can come from it. One particular thing that makes me happy to present dishes from Benin is that in Benin we have some unique spices. These spices are from the ancient days. Those that our grandparents were using to cook. Today, for spices people prefer to go the supermarket. It makes me to realize that I need to value what I have from my country. 

This is the country that made me who I am today so i want to value my country. All the things my country has, I want to make it available for people to experience. That’s how we came up with the different dishes [for the Chef’s Table]. But it’s not about the dishes alone, it’s about the spices. Without spices, the dish doesn’t have any value. It’s the spice that makes a dish. 

NOK Dakouin

NOK Dakouin

What’s your favorite dish from your country?

[laughs] I didn’t expect that question but I’m very happy for that question because if I call the name of that dish and explain to you, it’s funny but it’s my culture. 

We call it Dakouin. Dakouin is a fisherman’s dish in my place. The fisherman goes to the river and gets all the fish and when he comes back, the first thing he does is to remove the biggest fish and give it to his wife to cook. 

So how do you cook it? It’s a very simple dish. You just do a very light stew, then you remove the fish from the stew and then use the remaining stew to make the garri. You Nigerians call it eba, but we [Beninoise] call it garri dakouin

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Dakouin means “you cook and you turn it” because when you cook it, it doesn’t remain inside the pot. The fisherman has worked very hard so he needs to enjoy what he worked for. This is the first dish we offer every visitor in our village. Any program - birthday, marriage or funeral - if you don’t cook it, your party doesn’t have any meaning.

So it’s like jollof rice?

Yes, it’s like jollof rice in Nigeria.

Will it be on the menu this weekend?

Yes, that’s my signature. It’s going to be celebrated. 

You mentioned earlier that everyone just goes to supermarkets for spices. Do you have any challenges sourcing spices in Lagos?

No. No. One thing I like about Nigeria, it’s unless you don’t know the direction. When you know the direction, you know the particular person that can help you. When you meet those kind of people, you get what you want. It’s a very wide country. [laughs]

[laughs] …a very wide country.

We also source ingredients from all around Africa; even though it’s hard and expensive, it’s very important to us that we research and expose our own flavours

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Thank you so much for sitting with us. We’re looking forward to the Chef’s Table. 

You’re invited! 


Join Chef Yacynthe this Saturday, October 13, 2018 at Nok as he explores the memories of Akodéha in a very personal Chef’s Table.

Nok’s Owanbe Party is THE Culinary Trip Down Memory Lane You’ve been Waiting For
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What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear jollof rice, abula, asun, dodo ikire and ikokore? An all you can eat Owanbe party of course! What about deep fried Cabin Biscuits? Apparently they were all the rage in the 60s. Put these two together and you’ve got the Nok Old School Owanbe Party.

The guys at Nok by ALARA are throwing the mother of all owanbe parties this Sunday on the eve of Independence Day to celebrate Nigeria at 58 with 6 courses of classic Nigerian party food served with the signature Nok twist.

You’ll be welcomed with palm wine and traditional snacks including gurudi, kulikuli, coconut candy, chin chin and those fried cabin biscuits. Then select from a couple of mains including abula, eja osan, pounded yam and efo riro, ikokore, and goat meat afang with fufu.

Continue with ipapanu including dodo ikire, moin moin elepo, adalu, peppered gizzards, ojojo, pof pof and asun.

Come dressed in your finest oleku and dashiki and dance the night away with our live band playing highlife, juju and afrobeat from the greats of the Independence era; Victor Olaiya, IK Dairo, Orlando Julius, Haruna Ishola and Ganiyu Kale. There’s even a prize for the best dressed guest.

Wind down with throwback creme caramel, fruit salad with milk and later later, a selection of Nok popsicles.

Call 09085614815, email reservations@nokbyalara.com, or DM @nokbyalara on Instagram to make a reservation

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Taste Test: The Amala at NOK by Alara

Unlike Folly, Nosa is not the biggest fan of Amala. Actually, that sounds like he might tolerate it. Nosa HATES Amala. That's a true reflection of what we're dealing with. So you can see how a proper assessment of the Amala at NOK wouldn't work if one half of Eat.Drink.Lagos has an inherent bias. Lucky for us, two readers of the blog helped us out -  @Ruby_TNT and @Jollz


ONYEKA: NOK is well known for its gourmet take on traditional Nigerian and African food in general, so when I was chosen (yay, me!) by Eat.Drink.Lagos to try out its new Amala menu, I was pretty excited.

JOLA: Joining Folly, Nosa and Onyeka to try out Nok’s amala was the natural next step in what I consider a career in amala connoisseurship and I was honestly honoured. Many are called but Jollz was chosen and more importantly, Jollz delivered.  

ONYEKA: Not because it was free amala, I mean sure, who doesn’t like free food especially when it’s amala, but because I was kind of eager to see how NOK intended to gourmet-fy it.

It’s AMALA!

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ONYEKA: Anyway, no need to talk about how pretty NOK is and its amazing ambience…those who know, know. On to the food itself. Firstly, it came in a really pretty bowl. Not authentic clay, but it did look quite real and gave off that traditional food vibe-ish. 

Now, to dissect the food and cost.

Bearing in mind that the menu said "amala with ewedu, gbegiri and assorted meat" for N3500, I was expecting a lot of amala for that price. Iya Olaiya anyone?

JOLA: The best amala is Ibadan amala, closely followed by early morning “buka” amala (don’t ask me how I know this) and right behind that is wedding amala (but it’s advisable you have a cast iron stomach to be able to fully take advantage, if not you'll find yourself stuck in the bathroom for hours). 

ONYEKA: But one needs to remember that this is fancy amala and not the usual Iya Basira type food so I guess N3,500 is understandable…

...nahhhh, it’s not. N2000 or N2500 would have been more feasible.

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JOLA: Again, NOK is great at presentation. The bowls were super cute and the amala was appropriately drowned in a sea of ewedu, gbegiri and assorted meat (yuck) as is customary.

ONYEKA: The amala wasn’t much. At first glance, it looked quite plentiful until I realised that it was literally a circle. The space in the middle was meat and stew. Hmmm.

Anyway, there was a whole lot of stew but not enough ewedu. I should point out now that I refused the gbegiri because beans because ground beans because EWWWW. Moving on, ewedu makes the whole meal. As far as I’m concerned, my amala should be drenched in ewedu with just a little bit more than a splash of stew. Luckily, the stew was really nice, so I guess I can forgive the not-enough ewedu.

Somewhat. 

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ONYEKA: Then, the meat.

Assorted meat.

JOLA: I really, really dislike assorted meat but apparently you people die for it

ONYEKA: When I hear "assorted meat", I think of roundabout (intestine), shaki (tripe), fuku (heart), beef, kpomo…you know, the good good.

NOK’s assorted meat was…let’s call it posh.

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ONYEKA: A lot of beef, slivers of shaki and cow leg. Maybe other people got roundabout or kpomo, but not me. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of beef, and if my cowleg isn’t melt-in-the-mouth soft, then I stay far away. My beef was soft but there was too much, so I had a piece or 2. My cowleg was soft but not as soft as I would have liked so I cut a bit out of a piece and that was that. I had my 2 slivers of shaki and, to their credit, they were quite soft and nice. I’ll give them that.

But yahhh, that’s it.

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ONYEKA: The piece de resistance, aka the amala, was really really nice, however.

JOLA: The texture of the amala was perfect, it was neither congealed, hard or super black. Amala is meant to be supremely soft, which is why I maintain that the best amala is made by old women with church aunty arms and less than 11 teeth.

ONYEKA:  Hands down, one of the fluffiest amalas I’ve had outside my house. I lowkey wanted more amala (but with more ewedu in the stew – yes, I’m not letting this go) but that would have been an extra N3500 and it’s never ever that deep lol.

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JOLA: Taste wise it wasn’t bad at all; I actually really enjoyed it.

Now, let me confess, I have a bit of an attitude when it comes to “fancy places” doing amala. I need a little grime, a few healthcare violations, a lot of rude women, and an immense lack of customer service.  That guarantees great tasting amala… well most of the time (side eye White House). However, I must confess, Nok impressed me. The amala was really soft, stew had bit of a kick (and you know how yoruba women are about their pepper), and overall it tasted really good. The ewedu and gbegiri combo wasn't watery (trust me, it’s a thing) and the actual beef in the collection of assorted meat was soft and delicious (I didn't touch the rest because I deserve better).

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ONYEKA: All in all, it was pretty okay if deconstructed, but for that price and for everything in general, I don’t think I’d be going to NOK again for this particular meal. If I could have the amala on its own though, I definitely would go back for more and more.

JOLA: At N3500, it’s pricey for amala but if you’ve got it and want to impress a few bougie friends I guess you should go for it. From this amala connoisseur it gets a thumbs up, and trust me, I know what I’m talking about. 


DAMAGE

Abula - N3500

All Day Christmas Eve Brunch at NOK

This Sunday, NOK by Alara is serving their brunch menu all day. We reviewed the brunch menu sometime last year and we are big fans of it.

On the surface, NOK’s brunch menu is a deviation from their easily accessible regular menu. Then you read the descriptions and you’re like, “oh, right. I know that”
— Nosa

View the entire brunch menu HERE

Peanut Crusted Fried Chicken Thighs with Sweet Potato Pancakes

Peanut Crusted Fried Chicken Thighs with Sweet Potato Pancakes

Yam and Oxtail Hash Brown with Fried Egg and Hollandaise Sauce

Yam and Oxtail Hash Brown with Fried Egg and Hollandaise Sauce

Suya-Crusted Steak and Scrambled Eggs

Suya-Crusted Steak and Scrambled Eggs

To reserve, you know the drill. Email reservations@nokbyalara.com  or call 0908 561 4815

ALSO, if you haven't done any Christmas shopping, Alara is open for your last-minute-dot-com needs. Check out their Christmas Gift Guide HERE.

Alara is on 12 Akin Olugbade Street, Victoria Island, Lagos


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Bottomless Cocktails at NOK this Sunday

When it comes to the bottomless brunches, Lagos is the absolute worst.  It's 2017 and we still don't have an abundance of brunch spots with Bloody Mary bars or endless mimosas. Imagine waking up on Saturday morning after an absolute mess of a night and you can't rendezvous with the gang for a leisurely brunch. I mean, everyone knows the cure for a hangover is either yam+egg or to keep drinking. Brunch and bottomless cocktails go together like bees and honey. You should never have one without the other. 

Now, there's the argument that serving a bottomless brunch will absolutely erode your profits and to be fair, the argument does have its merits. But if you REALLY look at the numbers, restaurants are making money hand over fist when it comes to alcohol. The markup is usually like 3 to 5 times more than the cost of ingredients. I know this because a couple of restaurant owners and drink vendors we know have come clean about it. 

Because someone else shares my pain, this Sunday, NOK is offering bottomless cocktails with their standard brunch fare. We've reviewed the NOK brunch in the past and we are massive fans of it. 

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Now, it's not bottomless ALL day as you can see from the flyer. It's time bound, but better that than nothing at all. If it bangs, maybe they'll make it a permanent Sunday fixture. One can only hope, yes?

To reserve, call 0908 561 4815 or email reservations@nokbyalara.com


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