Meet Nkesi Enyioha, entrepreneur changing the face of Nigeria’s restaurant business

Nkesi Enyioha is a seasoned cook and executive chef and owner of HSE Gourmet, a restaurant in Lekki area of Lagos State.

Her career in culinary took off the ground over a decade ago shortly after graduating from Ashburton Cookery School in Devon, the United Kingdom. She narrates her pleasant journey from the bar to cookery in this extensive interview with journalists.

Chef Nkesi, as she is fondly called, is one chef you wouldn’t want to miss anything in the world. Her art has earned her many positive names like magical fingers whose skilful fusion of African and Asian flavours with European techniques is the talk of the town.

Her first restaurant, HSE Café (now HSE Gourmet), began in 2016 and serves comfort soul food. She was on the panel of renowned chefs from around the world to deliver a cooking demonstration masterclass at the sophomore edition of the GTB Food & Drink Festival.

While HSE Gourmet has thrived, the executive chef pressed on with her quest which birthed Sabor, a modern, casual restaurant sitting at 14 Adeola Hopewell Street in Lagos. A visit to Sabor’s Instagram page, @sabor.lagos, showed a plethora of visually premium nourishing cuisines and snacks that can quench one’s thirst bud. This, she believes, is her true calling.

Although a lawyer, she acknowledged her love for cooking since age five. In her words, it always fascinated her. “And my mom happened to be the world’s greatest cook. As soon as I was done with the university (I knew I had no choice; had to go to the university), I decided to pursue a career in culinary arts and that’s what started me on this journey.”

She reminisced about how she started off as a prep cook, being asked to chop the onions, carrots among others in preparation for her mother to cook.

Swiftly, chef Nkesi unconsciously switched to some of the unique features about Sabor Lagos. “My words sound cliché. But the truth is it’s because we truly care. For me, this job isn’t strictly for financial reasons; it’s my life, it’s my passion and I’m not sure I can do anything else.

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“As the founder and CEO of HSE Gourmet, Ohuru by HSE and co-founder and executive chef Sabor, I’m trying to build a legacy, to make a mark and difference in the hospitality industry, to build confidence in our consumers that we the locals can become giants in this industry,” she expressed gleefully.

According to her, some qualities of luxury restaurants include fantastic service, high-quality food, and a beautiful relaxing environment.

The chef enthused: “Some people define luxury as a myth, as nothing but classism, consumerism, and exclusivity. I mean, is a restaurant luxurious only when it is overpriced and accessible to just a few people with deep pockets?

“No, this by no means qualifies a restaurant as luxurious. Luxury in my opinion is an experience. Unfortunately, we see overpriced restaurants everyday claiming luxury.”

For Chef Nkesi, “If customers are going to take their time to come and also pay for it, then it must be worth every penny – both in taste and quality – and the time they have taken out”

With this knowledge in mind, she proudly described all her kitchens as fast-paced, swift, and effective. Hence, she always starts from the restaurant concept. “I do deep research but ultimately my biggest inspiration is travel. Seeing different cultures express themselves through food is quite a fascinating thing to see.”

While she gushes about the idea of hosting guests at her kitchen, she looks forward to having award-winning writer, Chimamanda Adichie, be her guest.

Chef Nkesi isn’t only changing the narrative in the Cookery business, she is also throwing down the ladder for more female chefs to climb. “I’m happy to be part of changing that narrative of boosting the number of female chefs.

“I am happy to say that HSE gourmet has 70 percent female kitchen staff and we are working to adopt that across all our restaurants.”

Giving some pass marks to Nigerian cuisine, Chef Nkesi rated Nigerian cuisines as best in the world, adding, “Honestly, there is nothing like “the best”; it’s always going to be what resonates with you the most.”

While she forges ahead with her plans to treat guests with the most luxurious experience, the Sabor boss is passionately working on finding herself this year, “More restaurants and food-related businesses. Sabor is expanding to a new location which we are excited about. Pretty much world dominance is what’s next for me.”

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