According to Francesco Caruso, a consultant for small industries in the Tourism and Food and Beverages fields, the best chefs in the world play a pivotal part of the success of their respective brands and restaurants. This is more so than any single person in a parallel hospitality profession. He expressed his views while writing for Forketers, a restaurant marketing blog.
While there are undoubtedly traits that set the best talents apart from one another, most chefs share similar characteristics that help them hone and perfect their craft. Amongst such qualities are creativity, passion, not acting like a lone wolf, having grace under fire and the ability to take criticisms in good faith.
Others include endurance and stamina, being a good leader, having a defined palate and being focused at cooking your best all the time.
On creativity, there are fine-tuned skills required for inspired cooking, but the applications of these techniques are what make the impressive dishes. The daily challenges of a chef allow for an almost everlasting stream of creative possibilities to consider.
As for passion, you will find that being a chef requires a lot of hard work and determination. You have longer hours than other professions, so having a deep-rooted passion for the craft is essential to your success.
A good chef cannot behave like a lone wolf because you are never going to be alone in the kitchen. Every day you will rub elbows with prep cooks, chefs de partie, boulangers, potagers, sous chefs, executive chefs and more.
Similarly, you need grace under fire. You might not realize just how crazy and hectic it can be to work in a busy restaurant. This is where having a cool head amid immense pressure is an invaluable skill. Try to get involved in the shared camaraderie of the workplace that is common to kitchen staff. These ties can help pull you through particularly stressful experiences.
Furthermore, one has to have the ability to take criticism in good faith. Chefs are always changing their recipes and techniques so one should accommodate constructive criticism that is founded.
There is also the need to be detail-oriented. From the creation of a dish to the plating of the food, attention to detail is a critical component.
This background came to mind in a recent encounter with Chef Onukagha Justice.
Let us meet with him and get his takes on the industry
My name is OnukaghaEzenwa Justice, from Imo State. I was born on 30th of October, 1993. I’m single and a Christian. I’m very industrious and very passionate about food and cooking. I’m a chef, currently working in Glass House Hotel, New Oko-Oba, Ifako-Ijaiye, Lagos. I was opportune to have my Food Safety Training done in a cruise ship with an Indian, Chef ImtiazNandagio, 2018 to 2019.
It came in two forms. The first was the primary Food Safety and the second one was Food Hygiene, HACCP, Food Safety Hazards and Sanitation Procedures with Alison Jim Hall. He is advanced personnel of Food Safety Programme.
I had my primary school education at New Brilliant Academy, Agege, Lagos from 1996 to 2004 and my Junior and senior secondary at State Junior and Senior High School, Oyewole, Agege, Lagos from 2006 to 2012. Though I had my tertiary institution at Lagos State Polytechnic 2012-2015 but later dropped out of school because of the sudden loss of my father.
About my business
I started my cooking job in 2010. How I got my inspiration was from a lady who came to my mother’s restaurant and ate. Fortunately, I made the soup which she loved and said: “If only I can have a taste of this meal at ceremonial events”. This gave me the inspiration because I already had about three recipes of making such delicious vegetable soup.
So, that gave me the push to create more recipes and guess what? I developed not just food recipes but created recipes that will reduce intake of carbohydrates in swallow foods such as pounded yam, eba and fufu from 100percent to 20percent as well as increasing nutritional value in foods.
Overcoming initial challenges
My first challenge then was that my mother didn’t want me leave her restaurant business, because to her I was a good cook and hard working. But I had no cash at all to get an Android phone to do more research, or getting a know-how from a food laboratory.
I had to leave forcefully in search of job. Eventually, when I got one I had to get myself an Android phone. So, I began doing more research about my special recipes. These are made from herbs such as Moringa oleifera leaves and seed, turmeric, yoyo-bitters leaves and tonic leaves.
Lessons from being a self-taught chef
The fact that I made my recipes available for less privileged ones who can’t afford eating expensive, healthy meals remains a lesson that I cannot forget in a hurry.
Creativity is important because I create my unique recipes, then teach other cooks or chefs in the hospitality industry.
Effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the country’s economic downturn on my business
The sale was poor in my food delivery business. In fact, at a point I lost it. There was no one to help with the funds to resume the business (again); so, I had to resume hunting for job.
But I’m happy that I have done jobs for Chef Daniel Andrean, Mister Philip, an accountant who is a vegetarian. There was one Mister Segun, a stroke patient who on his return from London I had to prepare special diet for. In fact, he could not walk by the time we met. But after a month of taking my specially prepared meal made from Moringa Oleifera, STC-30 supplement, berries, ginger, garlic and tonic leaves he was able to be on his feet again!
Piece of advice to young people coming into the business
The first ingredient for a successful chef business is to have enough capital. That I didn’t have. Yes, cooking is fun but one must ensure the passion and ability ar there because surely challenges will come. They must build room for improvement, make friends with people who will motivate them in the business and read books.
Chefs must try to take cooking to the next level by doing research and creating recipes. They should believe in themselves because if I can do it they can do much better.
My favourite Nigerian and foreign dishes
My favourite dishes are: Vegetable soups, low-starch swallows invented by me, stir-fried vegetable rice and creamy fish pasta.
As for foreign dishes my favourite ones are Bolognese Crépes, Coconut creamy Pasta, Chinese Vegan rice, Chinese noodles, Spaghetti masala and Spaghetti Bolognese.
What the government should do for me
I want the state or Federal Government to sponsor me so that I can learn and create more nutritious recipes that can cure ailments for Nigerians.
Lessons from my heroes
My number one hero is Chef Daniel Andrea. He taught me to be trustworthy and to believe in myself. The second is Chef ImtiazNandagio. He’s an Indian Chef. He taught me food safety and food nutrition.
How I relax
I relax by creating recipes. All I do at that time is jotting them down on paper before I sleep off.