• Friday, April 19, 2024
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‘My training as French chef and Nigerian culinary background influence the innovations I create’

‘My training as French chef and Nigerian culinary background influence the innovations I create’

Renèe Chuks is a culinary innovator and entrepreneur specialising in combining local and diasporic ingredients to support more sustainable and empowering food chains. She is the cofounder and CEO of Aldente Africa, an artisanal food and beverage company, an executive academic director and lead chef instructor at the Umami Centre for Culinary Arts. Chuks trained as a classical French chef, graduating from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE, she speaks about her experience as a culinary entrepreneur and her involvement at the ’24 Hours of the Smithsonian in Lagos.’

What inspired you into becoming a culinary innovator and entrepreneur?

I am a trained Chef. It comes with my profession. I became a Chef to make a change in the culinary space.

How has the experience been for you as a culinary entrepreneur, especially moving from Nigeria to other countries?

It has been a great experience.

An entrepreneur is always learning, as a culinary entrepreneur, there are so many untapped resources to pull from both in Nigeria and across Africa, our land is bountiful.

How have you used your specialisation in combining local and diasporic ingredients to support more sustainable food chains?

My Partner, Chef Seun Kowosi and I created the first Gluten-Free Pasta out of Africa using local, indigenous produce like cassava, plantain, bambara and finial. We created the first ever seasonal fruit wines out of Nigeria: Agbalumo Wine, Cashew Wine, Hibiscus Wine, Mango Wine, and Pineapple wine. We also have our infused noodles, made with wheat and infused with various options, Spinach, Turmeric, Beetroot, Mushrooms, Herbs, Spices and we are working on other great products that incorporate diasporic ingredients and techniques, using local indigenous produce.

As the CEO of Aldente Africa, an artisanal food and beverage company, beyond Nigeria, are there other countries you supply food and beverage to?

We have a lot of requests for our products from all over the world and we are working on being able to get our products to various countries.

How do you ensure your culinary quite appeals to the young generation who desires the feel of good taste at the same time not compromising on healthy food?

Our largest consumer group is the young generation. A lot of the younger generation has the need for Gluten-Free food products, products made with no artificial additives, products made with no MSG and generally healthier food options and that’s exactly the forte of Aldente Africa.

Read also: Lagos launches campaign against vandalism of public infrastructure

As a renowned culinary innovator, do you have any partnership with local or international airlines regarding food or snacks supplies?

Not at the moment; we don’t. We are however, opened to effective collaborations like this one and more.

As travels increase globally and airlines seek ways to reduce physical contact to reduce spread of COVID-19, what innovative ways do you think food can be packaged to enhance safety?

This calls for the use of Eco-friendly, Biodegradable Food packaging options.

Clearly, there is a risk in using plastic on such a large scale, and biodegradable reusable packaging would be the next option as it’s more sustainable. We have plans to challenge and encourage young students in universities and polytechnics across the nation to create sustainable food packaging options from materials like banana peels, coconut husk, bamboo, corn husk etc. As I said earlier, the land is bountiful.

As a trained classical French chef, how are you able to combine your experience with your Nigerian background to appeal to a wider customer base?

It is these two factors, my culinary training as a classical French-trained chef and my Nigerian culinary background that influences the amazing innovations we create as products or food services, which is increasing our customer base day by day.

What is your advice for young people looking to explore this profession but have no funding?

Focus on the value you bring to the table and most times, it goes beyond the plate.

Have patience, lots of it. In the Culinary Arts, no matter how much of a boss you are, you are always a student. Your greatest tool is your mind, expand it, let it go places you have never been and bring back things you have never seen, touched or tasted and then create!

How will you compare the business of Culinary Arts here in Nigeria with what is obtainable in other countries?

It will be an unfair comparison for now, but we are getting there.

What is your involvement with the ‘24 Hours of the Smithsonian in Lagos’ and how will the event boost culinary arts and African artists generally?

The 24 hours of the Smithsonian in Lagos, was curated by my friend, visual artist Temitayo Ogunbiyi and she wanted to tell a sensory story through experiences conceived around food, sound and photography. My partner and I collaborated with Ogunbiyi to achieve this by creating a food experience we hope will invite nostalgia or create new memories of a dynamic food experience for all guests present. We executed the Aldente Experience, where guests indulged in Aldente Africa’s food products: noodles, wine, and pasta. Hopefully, it brought back memories for people, of dishes and flavones that they have experienced in their lives.

We hoped to spark questions like ‘what is the place of Food in Art?’

Well I Renèe say, There is a place for food in everything. Food is life and if you experience food with your entire being, you will naturally appreciate the art of it.

There are many stories and histories to be seen and explored in Africa; the world is looking to Africa. Artists all over Africa now have platforms to tell their African Stories and share narratives from their unique and diverse experiences, and this is the way it should be. It’s a good time.