LUCIEN Hounsa is a proud chef. His father was a chef and his eldest son is also a chef. Though he never dreamt of being one, but his father’s insistence forced him into the profession in his native country of Benin Republic. Today, Lucien Hounsa is the Executive Chef of Ibis Hotel, Lagos with experience garnered over forty years in different African countries.
In this interview with JIMOH BABATUNDE, Hounsa said he finds it difficult entering the kitchen at home and urged Nigerians to ensure they have at least a chef in the family. Here is an excerpt from the interview .
ON his journey to being a chef
After my secondary school in Cotonou, Benin Republic, I went to the catering school of Hotel Des Deputes, Porto Novo also in Benin Republic. Luckily for me, I came from a family of chefs, my father was one and my son is also a chef . I have never in my life dreamt of being a chef . I wanted to become an engineer, a scientist but my father always said he wanted me to come into the profession, being a chef .
Seeing the suffering my dad went through as a chef then, I said there was no way I will become a chef too, not knowing that with time it will become a sort after profession. Today, cooking is a sort after profession . That was how I became a chef, after my secondary education I went to the catering school based on the insistence of my dad , I started working as apprentice cook in Hotel Des Deputes in 1962 and I was there till 1966. After my apprentice I was employed in the same hotel as a Commis, a kitchen helper.
As a commis, you do all the small jobs in the kitchen like peeling potatoes, the vegetables and so on. After a year as a kitchen assistant , I was promoted to be a cook and that it has I progressed until I came to Lagos in 1972 . In Lagos , I worked for Nigeria Catering hotels , they had a Panache restaurant in Mainland Hotel, they had Cassa pepper restaurant in Palmgrove among other restaurants they had then. I became one of the chefs controlling the restaurant.
From there I moved to Eko Hotel in 1977 when it was opened , I was there for ten years , it was there I met the present GM of Ibis hotel, Richard Robaix. After ten years there, I was transferred back to my country Benin republic to open another Novo Hotel in Cotonou. I was there for another ten years before I retired, after my retirement I went to Burkina Faso where I opened an hotel, I worked for three years before going back to Cotonou.
Six months later I was back in Lagos to join Planet One in Maryland, I was there for nine months from where I went to another hotel in Lekki . I did not spend more than six months there because of the standards of the hotel. It was while there that the GM of this hotel who I had worked with in the past told me not to leave Nigeria again as they were working on this hotel then. After a year, he called me to come over and that was how I came here to open the restaurant in 2011.
Coping as a young chef and the first thing he learnt how to cook
The first thing I learnt how to cook was vegetable, potatoes to be precise. From preparation to cooking , there is technique for cooking .
On the best food he likes preparing
They are so many, but one which many chefs will see as being simple is spaghetti , but it is not as simple as many thought. There are many ways to prepare Spaghetti. It is not supposed to be over cooked, it has timing. To know if your spaghetti is well cooked , you take one of it from the hot water and throw it on the wall, if it sticks to the wall, it means it is cooked but if it falls down then it is not yet done.
On what inspires his cooking
I love being creative and this inspires me. A chef has to be creative, you seat down to think if I mix flour and egg together without yeast and if it comes out well, you as a chef gives it a name and that becomes your speciality. If it does not come out well, you jettison it.
On the food culture in Africa
I will tell you honestly that I will want the chefs to put more efforts into preparation of local food, because the foreigners that come into our countries want to experience our food, but some chefs don’t like touching African local food. This is very bad. We should promote our local food.
On food that has impacted on him as a child
I love okra and this has impacted on my cooking as a chef.
On the funniest thing to teach a chef
The first thing to teach a young chef is hygiene. A chef must be clean. A chef must not grow beards, a chef must have short nails, a chef must be clean. So the first thing to teach is hygiene. I will advise parents to ensure that they at least send a child to catering school to become a chef. The profession is a good one and it pays, but you need to like it to do it.
On the gadgets he likes using most
Almost everything in the kitchen from oven to knives, blender to cooker are all important.
Experience working at Ibis Lagos and its food culture
I am happy working with a good team here from the General Manager who is the chief marketer to the last person here.
Once you are lucky to work with a wonderful team you will always be busy and that is what we have been doing in the kitchen as our guests satisfactions is a testament to what we produce in the kitchen. People come from far and wide to eat here because of the quality and taste of food we serve them combined with the ambience of our hotel.
On weather he eats or cooks at home
(Laughter) this is a good question. I hate going to the kitchen at home.
I don’t do that because I spend almost all my time in the kitchen seeing food , vegetable. So, when I am at home I stay outside the kitchen.
Eating at home? Yes, I do. But my wife is always disappointed because she goes out of her ways to prepare the best food for me only for me to ask for small smoked fish with pepper and garri soaked in water. This is because I would have seen all she prepared already for that day. You imagine the disappointment the woman is facing as my wife.