There’s no denying that Lagos’ food scene has gotten far more exciting of late; we can hardly pick what restaurants we want to eat in right now. The myriad culinary influences and the inspiring fusion cuisine in restaurants such as Chef Imoteda‘s Signature immediately springs to mind. The Le Cordon Bleu trained chef is an expert who’s worked to create dreamy spaces with scrumptious food to match—her latest endeavour, in partnership with FilmHouse is a must-visit. She sat with BN Style to chat a bit about her journey and give us all the deets on her new venture.
BNS: How do you think Nigerian views on ‘fine dining’ have changed?
We still don’t have much fine dining in Nigeria. I think the general culture of going out to eat is definitely still growing and people are becoming more willing to try new foods. I remember when I started out in 2014 a lot of people truly didn’t understand the idea of someone coming to your house to cook you a plated three to five course meal. They wanted their caterers and ‘olopos’ that they knew and understood. But now we have people hiring me to do elaborate 8 course meals for their loved ones. It’s great to have witnessed and been a part of this change
BNS: What trends are you seeing in Nigerian food today, and which are you most excited by?
Very excited by the number of people playing with Nigerian ingredients. We have so many chefs right now who are taking traditional dishes and turning them on their heads and I love it! We have such a wealth of ingredients and flavors in this country so it excites me to see people exploring that more!
BNS: Of all the dishes on your new menu, which is your favourite to make?
Confession time! I am not doing a whole lot of cooking right now. What people don’t often realize about being a head chef is that you do so much more admin and HR work than you do cooking. But my favourite dish to make is probably the Chops dish. Every element on the plate is so delicious and quickly cooked to order. Lamb chops seasoned with salt and black pepper seared in a pan and placed on top of crispy smashed potatoes and suya roasted carrots finished with an amazing chimichurri. It is delicious and so much fun to cook and plate. My sous chef came up with the plating and it is so rustic! I love rustic plates!
BNS: You’ve hosted some pop-up restaurants in the past, but what would a NFFT food project look like today (post COVID-19)?
I’m honestly not sure. Part of the fun and experience of The NFFT was eating on a large table almost family style and meeting new people and sharing new tastes and flavours. Post Covid re-creating that same vibe with social distancing isn’t really going to be available so I’m looking at ways of creating a more visually immersive experience. Basically people being able to watch the cooking being done and getting a “presentation” on the background so that they are still very engaged in the food and the moment even if they can’t necessarily share in with the person sitting next to them.
BNS: What is inspiring you right now?
Can I be honest? Nothing at this moment. With the state of the world I am not super excited to step outside and see. I have been drawing inspiration from myself and my old work. Reminding myself that I am talented and I have done amazing things in this life. So far it’s working.
BNS: Would you ever do a cookbook?
I would absolutely love to do a cookbook of Nigerian fusion recipes and some of my favourite quick meals.
BNS: Do you think being a great chef is a natural talent, or is it something anyone can learn?
I think anyone can learn to cook but cooking definitely comes a lot more naturally to certain people. To be a great chef you need to have a combination of creativity, skill and an amazing palette. I think your palette is what determines whether or not you will be a great cook. Not everyone has an amazing palette.
BNS: Was there anything that you thought you wanted to do before you started cooking?
I used to be a make up artist and I absolutely loved it. I did both beauty and special effects makeup for movies. I thought I would go on to set up a school in Nigeria… clearly that didn’t happen.
BNS: How challenging was it starting this new restaurant, especially in a pandemic?
Super super challenging!!! Creating a new menu that you hope will be able to satisfy a wide range of tastes and dietary needs while serving amazing food at a high standard is insane! Then doing it in a pandemic where you have to create space for social distancing and worry about even getting customers in the door cause everyone is afraid to go out. Man my grey hairs have been tripled. I AM STRESSED. But it is a great challenge so I’m happy I got the chance.
BNS: What do you hope people will love the most/connect with at the new Imoteda restaurant?
The space is really pretty and comfortable and has a lot of sunlight. I was very, very intentional about creating a beautiful space that one could come in and feel welcomed and warm and feel comfortable. But the real winner is the food! The menu genuinely brings me joy! It’s a mostly Nigerian fusion menu plus additional items that are my favourite things to eat. The best thing on the menu for me is the Imoteda’s Hangover Bowl which is my play on indomie and suya. It is so amazing and comforting! Everyone should definitely try it.
BNS: What kinds of Nigerian food do you think are underrated right now?
Man I think we haven’t explored Northern food as much as we need to. There are insane dishes that can be found and I was hoping to do a trip to the North this year but.. Ms. Rona came through. I think anyone that hasn’t had Miyan Tuashe is missing out in life.
BNS: If you could have anyone visit the new place, who would it be?
ALL OF LAGOS! All of you should come. But I would love to have all the Feminist Coalition ladies come through cause I admire what they’re doing so much! Also Joke Silva lol. Internationally I would love for Chef Massimo Bottura to come through cause he’s one of the chefs that inspires me daily.
BNS: What is your idea of happiness?
Being surrounded by my family and friends with good food and drinks. I am at my happiest when I am in a comfortable space with my people cooking and sharing food and stories with them.
BNS: What is your present state of mind?
Honestly a little bit stressed but generally very thankful. Worried about my country and trying to fix things in my own little way.
BNS: What do you appreciate the most about your journey?
All the people who have chosen to take a chance on me and given me the opportunity to grow.
BNS: What’s your most memorable meal?
Hmmm this is tough. I’m always eating and eating good food but I would say my first meal at The Ninth in London. I had this amazing beetroot and burrata salad then a quail stuffed with grapes and my mind almost exploded. That’s my favourite restaurant on earth I think.