Chichi Equomah of NyoNyo Foods: Doing Contract Catering Like a Boss (Part II)
This is Part 2 of a two-part series on young Ghanaian food entrepreneur, Chichi Equomah of NyoNyo Foods, who has found her niche in contract catering services and she’s doing it like a boss. Read the first part here.
We Went Into Chichi’s Kitchen
Banku and tilapia light soup. I also love mashed potatoes served with prawns and peri peri sauce.
Favorite kitchen task?
Slicing vegetables and fruits. I like to cut or chip them into fancy things.
Favourite kitchen tool/equipment/gadget?
Multi purpose slicer. Your food will always be inviting if you add the right finishing touches and your garnishing is appealing to the eyes.
What’s the first dish you learned how to cook? Who taught you?
Rice and egg stew. My gorgeous mum taught me.
Any favorite food programme (or channel), cookbook or food blog?
Though I’m not a TV person, I’ll say Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen and Chopped.
What are your top three cooking tips to share with our readers?
1. Store spices in a cool dark place, not above your stove. Humidity, light and heat will cause herbs and spices to lose their flavor.
2. Remember, it’s all about the preparation. Take away the stress by doing the prep the night or day before. You’ll look like a star chef. 😉
3. If you’re cooking for someone important — like a date — never try a new recipe or cook with a new ingredient. Try it out on your own first before making it for anyone.
What herb or spice will you never miss in any food you prepare?
Onion flavoured spices
What’s your philosophy when it comes to food?
Let food be the medicine and the medicine be the food.
What do you most love about your job?
The feedback I get from guests that come to my table is what I love the most about my job. It’s what keeps me going.
Coming Out of the Kitchen
What do you do for fun or to relax?
I love to travel and tour new places. If traveling was free you will never see me again (laughs). I love safaris and I want our forests, grassland and wildlife to be preserved and poachers punished.
For my dream getaway vacation, I will like to go to Greece. Greece has beautiful waters and beautiful old buildings of historic importance. I love things that have whole stories behind them. I’m sophisticated with my ways of having fun. My recent favorite place is Maldives. I was in the Maldives in December last year. I love exotic places. I am an aquatic person. Anything water soothes my soul. I will also like to travel to Singapore. I see it as a mixture of everything. You can’t go wrong with Asia because of their wide range of cuisines; Europe for their shopping arcades; the southern part of Africa for their wildlife. Like I said if travelling is free you won’t see me again.
What is it like doing business in Ghana?
Doing business in Ghana is a complex matrix depending on your location, the nature of your business and your target market. My kitchen is in the heart of the city and we can easily connect to anywhere in Accra. Overall working in Ghana is good once you have the needed capital, access to a credit facility, right marketing strategies, committed staff and suppliers, in our case vendors from whom we buy raw foodstuffs.
What has been your biggest accomplishment since you started the NyoNyo journey? Any recognitions or awards?
I support anything that has to do with women and children. I’m working with a friend Akosua Ago Aboagye of Okay FM to empower young women and get them to start something meaningful with their lives. We are working on a program called Women by Mandate. I love giving and I’ve been an advocate for the less privileged and needy people in our society. As Nyonyo’s corporate social responsibility, we support NGOs in cash and kind during projects that target the people Nyonyo seeks to help. We received a certificate from Gold Label Africa Outreach for supporting their annual inter-orphanage games in which a team named after us, #TeamNyoNyo came out first.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced on the journey?
Working for yourself can be overwhelming especially if you don’t have a plan. The initial challenges can be discouraging yet the benefits for those who endure the trial period cannot be compared to the initial struggle and pain.
My first challenge had to do with the fact that I haven’t had any culinary training aside the skills I acquired from my mom. I’ve had to learn on the job and I’ve come to the realisation that learning has no end. Everyday you have to come up with a new way of doing things. Food is art. It requires creativity.
Secondly, managing a team of skilled and unskilled staff was really tough from the beginning. Having to work with my team and understand their ways of doing things and apply best practices at work was a big challenge, but we are taking it one day at a time and it gets better by the day. A lot has changed in such a short time. Those who’ve seen me work with my staff know I don’t play madam. There is no boss at NyoNyo. I get involved in serving and I go round to help pick up our plates after every event.
Then there is the issue of stigmatisation. Some people are of the notion that once you are behind the buffet table serving, you are not highly educated. On isolated occasions, I’ve had a guest show a bad attitude towards me. But I respond with grace and respect even in such situations. For me, I believe that at the table, the guest is king. Customers and their guests can make or unmake you. One bad experience can harm your hard-built reputation. So how you respond in unpleasant situations is a skill you have to learn and teach your team.
The third challenge has to do with the disparity between client’s budget and their expectations. We get people who are looking for a platinum service with a bronze budget. We understand that no budget is small, but every budget and what it can cater for. We’ve had to take many difficult decisions in turning down some of our clients based on the fact that their budget and the service they wanted was just not feasible. We believe our prices are very competitive and we offer some of the best bargains on the market. We are even willing to do works that falls outside our rates. We’ve done works for as low as GH8 per unit. Yet we won’t compromise on quality to meet a small budget.
Also changes in price on the foodstuff market affects our rates and you know you can’t just change prices like that. Let’s say we’re in May and I’ve booked a client for a service in August then there is sudden price hikes. You can’t go back to the person to adjust the price upwards.
If you had to pick three things of interest happening in Ghana right now, what would you want the world to know?
Ghanaian and African cuisine with a continental flare is gaining grounds on the global food market. We have great chefs from the motherland doing amazing things in the art of cooking and heading the kitchens of big restaurants and hotels and running food shows on international channels.
Infrastructure. Big hotels with 5-star rating as well as shopping malls are springing up by the day. Ghana is developing really fast. You don’t need to travel to shop for some of the top global brands anymore. We have them in our malls.
Fashion. The Ghanaian fashion industry is continually evolving. Talented designers are using our colorful print fabrics to make urban apparels which are making waves all around the world.
What do you think is the next big thing in the Ghanaian food industry?
“Less junk, more strength” as my co-foodie of Fruggies fame will say. We are gradually drifting from overly processed foods, fatty diets and eating more organic and whole foods. As consumers become choosy about what they eat based on how healthy the food is, restaurants and local food vendors will employ better ways of cooking food and substitute unhealthy foods with more healthier options.
If you were to put together a “101 Things to Do in Accra” guide for non-Accra and non-Ghana residents, what will your top three be?
You can’t visit Ghana without trying at least our 3 most popular foods in my opinion — Fufu, Banku and Jollof. Visit Buka Restaurant, Azmera or Mangoase to indulge in our rich indigenous delicacies. If you are looking for nightlife in the capital with a good vibe, try the Republic Bar, 233 Jazz Bar or KONA.
If you want a feel of safari in Ghana, visit the Mole National Park. There is a new lodge at the Park — Zaina Lodge that will make the experience all the more enjoyable. Visit Cape Coast and Elmina for their castles and visit James Town for the annual Chale Wote Festival. If you are looking for exotic beaches, try White Sands. Visit the mystic stone in Larabanga for the historical story behind it. Visit the Gemi Falls and Mountain in Ho to experience nature. Go to Kakum National Park for the thrill of it.
What’s your advice to young people looking to become food entrepreneurs?
If you are in school, take your academics seriously. Even food has a lot to do with science and maths! Have a plan and follow through.
You can be anything you want to be! Once the mind has perceived and conceived it, you can achieve it. Go all out on your dreams. Follow your passion. Don’t limit yourself. Who knows? You may be the next MacDonalds, running the next successful chain of fast foods restaurants.
Don’t be in a rush to grow up or be independent. Take it easy. One step at a time. Never put a limitation on yourself. Your background shouldn’t be a hindrance to doing what you want to do. Your life depends on you and how you take charge of it.
What’s your opinion on food blogs? What role do you think they have to play in terms of how people get information online and how the food landscape is shaped?
Food bloggers are the voice for our voiceless foods. I’m not a blogger myself, but I appreciate the work that bloggers are doing. Bloggers give lots of insight through their reviews once they try our foods or recipes. When they critique our foods or services, it helps us to make some changes to what might have been in our blindside while their positive reviews help our prospective clients who would want to try us to have a fair idea of our catering services. Shoutouts to food bloggers. You keep us on our toes.
Anyone you’ll like to thank?
A big Thank You to God for his grace and favour. I’m ever thankful to my guardian angel, my mom who I affectionately call Mama Bear; and my lifelong life coach, my fiancé. Last but not least to the entire NyoNyo family and followers of the NyoNyo brand.
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