Chef Elẹgbẹdé: Chief proponent of the food revolution in Nigeria
There is a culinary revolution across Nigeria, one that is taking from and making use of centuries-old traditional recipes, cooking techniques and ingredients. The revolution goes much further though and if it were ever to be televised then perhaps phrases such as sustainable food; farm-to-fork, local ingredients and local sourcing will be the buzzwords and phrases that will fill our screens. Chef Michael Adé Elẹgbẹdé, one of its chief proponents has been kind enough, not only to share his views on this revolution with us, but to tell us about his journey from a bonafide chef at the world famous Eleven Madison Park restaurant in New York to certainly one of Nigeria’s most innovative Chefs.
He is also a cheer leader for African cuisine, a staunch advocate of formal training in his profession and possesses an incredibly creative plating instincts.
By way of background Chef Elẹgbẹdé told us that, “My passion and desire for food evolved from cooking with my grandmother from a very young age, however, becoming a chef was a conscious decision to further my knowledge in the craft”. He believes that “good food is food cooked with good ingredients and love”. Asked how he will add value to Nigerian and African cuisine, Chef Elẹgbẹdé stated that “I believe our food is highly valuable and my goal is to highlight our cuisine with my personal approach to our food.”
Given Chef Elẹgbẹdé, had worked in one of the most illustrious restaurants in the world, we were keen to know what he thought the secret ingredient to running a successful restaurant was. He intimated that
One of the most important elements to running a successful restaurant, which I noticed is sometimes overlooked here in Lagos is good customer service. I’ve had to walk out and cancelled my orders at a couple of restaurants due to terrible customer service. If a restaurant is in a great location, has great food, but has bad customer service it is bound to fail!
What I suspect excites Chef Elẹgbẹdé most about Nigeria’s food scene is the impending transformation he foresees. The same transformation that we are all excited about and has led to people taking their food and where they eat much more seriously. In his words “We are going through an incredible food revolution here in Nigeria. People are becoming more aware of what they eat, where it is coming from and eating more locally grown produce rather than imported foods.
The next 3-5 years are going to be the most important years when it comes to food development in Nigeria. I foresee better infrastructure to growing and processing food sustainably in the country; more efficient agricultural and horticultural practices and Lagos becoming the epicentre for food on the African continent.
Bold words indeed! And as is our custom we finally asked him what tips he had for young men and women who want to follow in his footsteps as a chef –
Education is the key to success. Anyone who wants to become a chef should get a proper education in the craft.
Chef Elẹgbẹdé was particularly emphatic about this and even though he appreciates learning the art of cooking perhaps from mum, as he did, he also appreciates the unique insight and skill that formal training brings. He stated that “My education at The Culinary Institute of America focused on training techniques fundamental to the classical French cooking methods, bringing a holistic approach to the way one cooks and experience food, however, cooking with my grandmother and mother was more home cooking with emphasis on the traditional and cultural techniques we use in Nigeria.” A word to the wise as they say is enough!