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Meet Chef Izu Ani: The mastermind behind Dubai’s iconic restaurants

Meet Chef Izu Ani:  The mastermind behind Dubai’s iconic restaurants

Renowned chef Izu Ani has left an indelible mark on the global culinary scene with his incredible talent and passion for cooking. Ani, originally from Nigeria, has established himself as one of Dubai’s most influential chefs, and his success is a testament to his hard work and dedication.

Ani, who at the age of 16, concluded his secondary institution, claimed that he originally joined the ‘Home Economics’ class at 14 for the rich company of girls. A class he never knew would play a defining role in his culinary future.

Chef Ani, who completed his secondary education at the age of 16; initially joined the ‘Home Economics’ class at 14, primarily motivated by the opportunity to interact with girls. Little did he know that this seemingly casual choice would shape his future in the culinary world.

“Home economics is predominantly female class. When I saw it was a class full of females at the time, I said “I want to be there,” because I kind of liked being with the females. So I chose the class because it was all girls in the class,” he said.

The acclaimed Chef stated that he had left school at the age of 16, but carried on cooking. He also revealed that he attended college for three months.

His culinary journey began when he came across a job advertisement for a training program at a bakery,“ I saw this job advert ‘Training scheme for white NVG’ in Greg’s bakery. So it was a bakery,” he said “You get trained to be one of the managers,” he said.

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Ani expressed his excitement at the thought of becoming a manager. But the enthusiastic Chef soon found himself out of place in an environment that required the mastery of mathematics to succeed. Math was not his strong suit at the time. Despite this limitation, Ani’s dogged will to work never wavered.

After receiving assurance that upon improving his mathematical skills, he would be welcomed back into the bakery’s management program, Ani enrolled in college for two months to study math. However, upon his return, he failed a test administered to determine his qualifications for the role, leading to his second rejection from the bakery.

Undeterred at the young age of 16, he persisted in his search for employment, driven by personal ambition and the need to support his mother, who worked multiple jobs and served as the sole provider for their family.

“We did not have much, financially, and my mother was working three to four jobs. So she did not have time to exchange with me to try and try and advise me” he said “We did not have a father, so my mother was my father and mother and breadwinner and everything at the same time. So I had to do a lot of things alone,” he said.

He was then directed by a job courier to David Loid’s Club, a Tennis Club. There, he was interviewed by the presiding Chef, Ian Crowe. Ian had revealed that there were two of them to choose from, Ani and another aspirant. But the presiding Chef had conditions to be met before determining his choice. Ian, the chef, announced that they would work a gruelling number of hours a week, with days off included to prove their qualification.

“He said two days we would do 16hrs a day and then have a day off, and then after, we would do another two days of 16hrs each before another day off,” Ani said.

The condition which was set to test their dedication and perseverance was not an easy one. Ani stated that while the condition posed a challenge at first due to his lack of experience, he stayed the course. His partner on the other hand was a different story, as he dropped out at the end of the week without seeing the conditions through.

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This in turn impressed Ian to the point where the accomplished chef decided to take Ani under his wings. Ani said that “he took me under his wings, showed me how to make the fancy salads a bit better. He put the parsley, the little tree on top to make it beautiful,” he revealed fondly “And from there I studied and I did my white year scheme.” An accomplishment he was grateful for as he acknowledged Crowe as his first mentor who did not make things easy for him for the sake of his growth.

Ian then provided a route to further expand Ani’s growth by recommending him for a job in a five-star hotel, Sheraton Belgravia, a big break! There he met with another accomplished chef who accepted and taught him new things. He said, “I did breakfasts, cooking fried eggs, cooking omelettes.”

From there he was given a choice to excel in another culinary field, pastry making. Upon his confession to his love of pastries, Ani revealed that Sheraton Hotel sponsored his pastry training. He stated that John Huber, the famous chef, was who he worked with.

“So Sheraton sponsored my pastry training and I did it with John Huber. He was one of the famous pastry chefs. I was in awe of him. He is French as well,” Ani said.

Ani disclosed that his time with Huber was rewarding as he never had it easy, but was taught most befittingly.

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“I learned the hard way, but one thing he taught me was that pastry had a discipline; if you did not have discipline, you would never get it,” he said “You have to be disciplined to do pastry. I think that was one of the best decisions I had made, to go into pastry. So I left the kitchen and went into pastry making. I did the year there and I loved it.”

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Ani confessed to not being completely disciplined at the time, but in the course of the training, he had adopted new insights to being disciplined. This he said, aided his level of consistency. He stated that with discipline comes new levels of freedom; freedom to choose what you want to do and not be swayed by distractions that would lead you off course.

After honing his cooking skills in some of the world’s top restaurants, including the legendary Fat Duck in the United Kingdom, Ani decided to venture into the Middle East to explore new culinary opportunities.

The first restaurant that Chef Izu Ani opened is the critically acclaimed and highly popular dining destination called La Petite Maison. La Petite Maison, known for its Mediterranean cuisine, first welcomed diners in 2004. Located in the heart of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the restaurant quickly gained a reputation for its vibrant and flavorful dishes that showcase the essence of the Mediterranean region.

La Petite Maison focuses on offering a relaxed yet elegant dining experience, where guests can savour a menu curated with fresh, seasonal ingredients. The restaurant’s philosophy revolves around creating simple yet delicious dishes that highlight the pure flavours of each ingredient.

Furthermore, La Petite Maison’s warm and inviting ambience, coupled with its exceptional service, leaves a lasting impression on guests. The restaurant’s dedication to delivering a delightful dining experience has led to its expansion, with additional locations opening in cities such as London, Miami, Istanbul, and Abu Dhabi. He went on to open several other successful eateries, including La Serre, The Lighthouse, and Izu Brasserie & Bakery.

The success of La Petite Maison serves as a testament to Chef Izu Ani’s culinary talent and creative vision. His ability to capture the essence of Mediterranean cuisine and create memorable dining experiences has cemented his reputation as one of the leading chefs in the industry.

La Serre, located in Dubai, is a two-story restaurant that features a patisserie and a bar. The restaurant has a menu that focuses on French cuisine, providing guests with a classic French Brasserie experience.

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The Lighthouse, also located in Dubai, is perched atop the Dubai Design District, offering a stunning panoramic view of the city. The restaurant has a modern Mediterranean menu, highlighting Chef Izu Ani’s flair for creating exceptional Mediterranean dishes.

Izu Brasserie & Bakery, located in City Walk, Dubai, provides guests with a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant serves classic French and British dishes, along with a selection of baked goods and pastries.

Chef Izu Ani has become one of Dubai’s most celebrated chefs, earning several accolades and recognition for his culinary excellence and creativity. His passionate approach to cooking has resulted in a host of successful restaurants that continue to impress and delight diners globally.

Ani’s success can be attributed to his commitment and consistency in the culinary world. He has created gastronomic landmarks in the UAE, including Alaya, Carine, Eunoia by Carine, Gaia, La Maison Ani, and the world’s number one olive oil brand Theo.

Ani’s exceptional culinary creations, characterized by a perfect balance of flavours and exquisite presentation, have garnered him numerous accolades and recognition. In 2016, he was crowned Best Head Chef at the renowned Caterer Middle East Awards, solidifying his status as a culinary mastermind.

The importance of consistency is a mantra Ani lives by “It is all about showing up every single day. It is not about the result, but about you being there. That’s what I tell my kids, you have to be there. You can’t just think I’ll do it tomorrow. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. Today when you wake up, that’s where you are. My mother did … she is my idol in many ways,” Ani said to the Gulf News network.

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However, Ani’s passion for cooking goes beyond his own successful ventures. He is committed to sharing his knowledge and expertise with aspiring chefs, frequently giving masterclasses and hosting culinary events. Ani’s dedication to mentoring the next generation of chefs has made him a revered figure in the industry.

The chef’s preference for wearing black stems from his desire to simplify his thoughts and focus on his creative process. He believes that simplicity is key, both in his cooking and in his appearance. Ani wants his cooking to speak for itself, without the need for excessive embellishments.

Ani’s culinary philosophy revolves around understanding and partnering with the ingredients. He believes that each ingredient has a story to tell and should be appreciated in its purest form. He has travelled, explored, and perfected his craft, learning from top chefs around the world. Ani spent nine months in Spain, working for free at renowned restaurants, all in the pursuit of knowledge and skill.

To Ani, food is more than just sustenance. It is a way to connect with others, share experiences, and create lasting memories. Through his culinary creations, he hopes to inspire joy, happiness, and love in those who indulge in his dishes.

In the vibrant and cosmopolitan city of Dubai, the popularity of Nigerian cuisine has taken a giant leap forward with the arrival of Ani’s new restaurant. As Nigerian cuisine gains recognition around the world, Chef’s culinary prowess brings a fresh perspective and elevates the rich flavours of Nigerian dishes to new heights. As the tantalizing aromas waft through the air, Dubai’s culinary scene is about to embark on an extraordinary journey into the heart of Nigerian gastronomy.