Nigeria, despite many challenges is known for several things; her tasteful music, deep appreciation of football, extravagant weddings and jollof pride. In this interview, Imoteda, Head Chef, Heels in the Kitchen in her narrative of the Nigerian Fusion Food Tour said that Nigeria could earn foreign exchange from food export. According to Imoteda, what is least talked about is the wealth of incredible recipes and fresh produce the nation is endowed with. For her, it is time the government regulates and support food industry so that the world will get to know Nigerian cuisine.
Imoteda is a Cordon Bleu trained chef who has long shared her passion for cooking with family and friends. She conceptualized and created the show while exercising her vast creative abilities in the makeup and entertainment industries she has valuable experience behind the scenes of television and movie production. She enjoys spending time in the kitchen and creating amazing but easy meals for her family and friends.
She brings a unique understanding of being a working mother in Lagos, who after a long day of working in heels, must go into the kitchen to cater for her family;something the target demographic knows all too well.
What inspired as a Chef
I’ve always enjoyed cooking and used to do it a lot for family and friends. I came up with the idea of a cooking show focused on fashion and heels and friends and decided to go to cuinary school in order to be able to make my dreamshow a reality. While I was at Le Cordon Bleu, I realised that I loved the chaos of the kitchen and being able to create magic from ingredients and so on my return to Nigeria, I decided that instead of just doing the cooking show, I would also become a full private chef. Now I create 3-8 course dinners for intimate events and truly I have never been more happy with my chosen profession. Being a private chef is extremely fulfilling for me.
The Nigerian Fusion Food Tour:
The Nigerian Fusion Food Tour is a city tour that I created, funded and organized in 2016. The tour kicked off in Abuja on October 30th 2016 and had stops in London, UK, Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, Toronto and Lagos. The purpose of the tour was to showcase Nigerian cuisine to a larger audience and also reinvent the way we as Nigerians think about our food. We served a six course meal in each city serving such things as moi-moi puree and jollof arancini.
The first of it’s kind, the Nigerian Fusion Food Tour presented by Heels in the Kitchen was created with the aim of exporting Nigerian food to a larger crowd. By taking some of our everyday food elements and tweaking them, we hope to raise them to a fine dining standard that not only makes them easier for a non-Nigerian palate to understand but also shows the versatility of our Nigerian ingredients. Basically we are turning Nigerian food into Mede-Mede!
Lesson for Nigeria
The major lesson I brought home is that the diaspora is ready for Nigerian cuisine in a big way. The time is ripe for Nigerians to package our foods in ways that appeal to a wider audience. The market is there. We just need to work hard at it.
Challenges of Nigerian Food industry
First let’s talk about the light situation. How can I run a food service business if I can’t guarantee that the light will not go out and my produce rot in the fridge? All the major things that affect other industries affect us as well.
The lack of proper road and transport options means that while amazing produce is being grown in Jos and there is dairy there, we here in Lagos cannot easily access this produce and when we do the cost is almost ruinous.
Kitchen equipment and supplies can be pricey. Where are the government initiatives to support the food industry? Where is the support from the banks?
Finding qualified staff is also quite difficult and once you train someone they’re quick to run off to start their own business which immediately crumbles cause they don’t know enough.
It is time to export our food to international market. We should promote agriculture and food culture. The government needs to regulate the food industry. We need a cooking hub where people can be trained and retrained. We need to export our local food. If we focus on food export, we can raise billions of naira annually on agricultural export. By so doing, we will be opening up new markets. Nigeria can become tourist destination if our local foods are export to the international market.
Expectations from the government
The government needs to realise that food tourism is a real thing and with the wealth of cultures we have here, Nigeria’s food tourism culture has the potential to be huge!
Start initiatives to support the food industry. Make funds available to set up proper standards and schools so that the industry is attractive to more people and more staff can be properly trained. Let there be minimum standard that chefs, cooks and caterers have to meet to practice. This will raise the overall quality of food being produced and draw more interest. There is need for the government to provide funds. We need money to grow. Make it happen. Fix the roads and transportation issues and most importantly, deal with the energy challenge.
The success story
The feedback was amazing from the tour. The fact that we were able to sell out in cities like London, Atlanta, Baltimore and Toronto was amazing. We had people who ordinarily would have no connection with Nigerian food try it and like it. On a more personal side, being able to successfully organize and execute a tour that was the first of it’s kind, though not without challenges, was all the success that I needed. The fact that people want us to return for another year is another success as well.