There are chefs, and there are chefs! Ever since Hilda Effiong Bassey, better known as Hilda Baci, the Nigerian chef, restaurateur and actress achieved the feat of setting a new Guinness World Record for marathon cooking (Cook-athon),with 93 hours 11 minutes on May 15, 2023 attention has been focused on what roles chefs really play in Nigeria’s vast and vibrant food industry.
It would be recalled that Baci surpassed the Indian chef, Lata Tondon who hit a time of 87 hours, 45 minutes cooking marathon earlier in 2019. Baci had also won the Jollof Faceoff competition in August 2021, after making her mark as the host of Dine on a Budget, a television show that airs on Pop Central TV.
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On a general note therefore, when the word ‘chef’ is mentioned the image that comes to mind is that of a devoted female cook, fully dressed in her apron, cooking and dishing out delicaies for the delight of the consumers. It could be family members, friends and fans.
The truth however, is that there are some men who are equally committed to the art and science of the culinary business. One of such is the wave-making Chef Onukagha Ezenwa Justice, popularly known as D Smart Chartered Chef. But before focus shifts to him, let us take a closer look at the fundamental functions that chefs normally play.
Their responsibilities include leading, mentoring, and managing culinary team. They also develop and plan menus and daily specials. That is in addition to creating, preparing lists for the kitchen crew. In fact, apart from managing food costing and inventory, they also maintain standards for food storage, rotation, quality, and appearance. And they ensure compliance with applicable health codes and regulations. Interesting, si it not?
Of course, it is. Herein comes D Smart chef, who during a recent encounter took his time to explain the nitty-gritty of what the business really entails. The taste of the pudding, as they say is in the eating.
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“I’m Onukagha Ezenwa Justice, also known as D Smart Chartered Chef, I’m a passionate chef, recipe creator and food renovator. With a self-taught background in culinary arts,I’ve been cooking since the age of eight. Today, I’m focused on improving Nigeria’s nutritional food value, and providing multivitamin foods for malnourished victims.
When asked about his goals, this is what he said: “I want to really improve Nigeria’s nutritional food value as a must-do in the hospitality sector and provide multivitamin foods for victims of malnutrition. I know ways we can eat and have a 98% balanced diet.”
Going further he stated that: “I have plans on achieving this by shooting recipe videos and someday have my own Hospitality industry. However, I also will be focusing my attention on diabetic patients. There are specific meals that diabetic patients should eat to manage their illness, or possibly cure it, and I, Onukagha Justice is ready to provide the resources making available that knowledge for the benefit of Nigerians and others from outside our shores.
On his achievements so far, this is what he had to say.
“One of my greatest archievement is meeting with Nigeria’s first food technologist, to practise in the media, in the name of Mr Ayo Oyoze Baje. He’s fully practicing and doing great as as a journalist.
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“Another archievement is meeting with Chef ImtiazNandagio, a Certified Cruise ship Indian cum American Chef. He taught me food safety in his cruise ship and later on signing me into the Dynamic Dozie Entertainment (DDE) company to support my food recipe videos and social networking.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to the CEO, Mr. Onukagha Chigozie, General Manager, Mr Olando, and Operational Manager, Mr Joseph, for having me”
On partnerships he stated that: “I’m open to sponsorship and partnership opportunities and has renovated all Nigerian recipes by taste, quality, nutrition, and hygiene. I want Nigeria to be known as the country where you’ll find the best-tasting and nutritious meals.
“That perhaps, explains why my food takes the right and proper time to get done and ready for serving by using thermometer and measurement control analysis. I personally love good food, and for that reason, I believe that every meal should be prepared with care and precision.”
In response to what drives him on in the food business, he aptly explained that: “My dedication to improving Nigeria’s food value chain is evident in my passion for cooking, and my desire to help malnourished victims and diabetic patients. With my focus on quality, nutrition, hygiene, and taste, I’m an inspiration to all chefs in the industry, making Nigeria a country that is known for its best-tasting and nutritional meals.”
On his heroes, he stated:
“I want to express gratitude to my mother, who helped me to start this culinary journey. Others inclde Chef Imteiz, Chef Allein, Mr. Alpha, Mr Uthman, for all their support. In conclusion, I send a shoutout to all chefs in the industry, because they are not alone in the field.
“Finally, I express my gratitude to all food bloggers for their contributions to the culinary world”.
It should be noted in all of these that becoming a professional chef is getting more attention than it used to be. For instance, in May 2023 the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) announced the winners of the second NIHOTOUR Culinary Schools’ Cooking Competition. The competition is held yearly to herald the annual NIHOTOUR Gastronomy Festival.
At the end of the 5-day marathon cooking competition, Red Dish Chronicles Culinary School came first, Masterminds Catering & Culinary School came second, while Chefs Academy came third. The top-three winners were given mouth-watering prizes which included paid foreign trips, fully funded culinary development training courses and large-scale kitchen equipment, during the Gala Night of the NIHOTOUR Gastronomy Festival at International Conference Centre, Abuja on June 17, 2023.
This should serve as a wake-up call and motivation for parents, teachers and leaders to assist those with the culinary skills to be at their best.