It was a privilege to have interviewed this great man, a chef and the founder of Red Dish Chronicles, the number one culinary school in Nigeria. He is Abiola Akanji, the one and only Chef Stone. He is one of the tops in the food industry that do wonders with foods ash have as we see especially on Instagram….well, it not only happens on Instagram, they are the real deal in handling food and making us have the ecstatic feeling when we see and eventually have a taste of their foods.
Chef Stone grew up in the city of Lagos, Nigeria but his university education was in London, at the London Metropolitan University where he studied Business Management. From there, he went ahead to acquire culinary knowledge from the French culinary institute in New York. He has had to work at a few restaurants in London after his culinary education before he moved back to Nigeria to open his own culinary school in both Lagos and Abuja and he currently shuttles between those two states…. Amazing!
He spoke to The Announcer on a number of things that we consider important for the average food loving Nigerian and also for the ambitious young person out there.
Let’s get to it!
Thanks for joining us
Can you please tell us your name?
My name is Abiola Akanji, popularly known as Chef Stone
How did the name “chef stone” come about?
I named myself ‘Stone’ because why not
How would you describe what you do for a living?
I am a chef. I am an entrepreneur and basically a gift to Nigeria’s hospitality industry
So, what do you love most about what you do, your job?
I love the fact that people are more open to the idea of trying new types of food as opposed to the conventional rice meals in Nigeria. I also love the fact that more people are welcoming the idea that you don’t necessarily have to be an accountant or a lawyer in Nigeria, being a chef is also a reputable profession.
Alright then, what is it about being a chef that gives joy and fulfillment?
The fact that I get to feed people gives me joy, creating beautiful recipes for families and individuals to enjoy gives me utmost fulfillment.
Where were you trained and how difficult hot was your training?
I was trained in the French Culinary institute of New York and it was a beautiful experience. Tough but I got through it and I am grateful for coming thus far.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
This dream started as a kid when I would always end up in my mother’s kitchen watching her bake and cook for the family and hinting to myself what joy this must give her as she always found an excuse to make us a meal at every little point in our lives. So yeah, I knew at a very young age that I was going to be a chef.
Amazing! So, tell us how it was like newer coming up, academics and its effect on you. Did you at any point, because of school, have difficulties with following your dream of becoming a chef?
My father wanted me to become a banker as he was a banker for many years. So I studied Business Management to make him happy and of course give him value for his money as he was paying my fees. Eventually, I decided to live my dream and that’s when I decided to go to culinary school. So no, my education in the university never interfered with my culinary education.
How do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from within me. I inspire myself to be great
What’s your favorite dish?
I don’t have a favorite dish and I think it’s one of the perks of being a chef. How can you choose a favorite from all of the beautiful meals and recipes that haven’t even been developed?
Funniest kitchen incident? Any?
Nothing comes to mind because I am Stone
Who in the food world do you admire most? Any mentor?
The person I admire most in the food world is Jamie Oliver
Are there any foods you just don’t like?
I really do not like beans. I don’t like beans in any form made
Can you imagine! He does not like beans!!! Meehhn!! Ok!
Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten! What do you think is going to be the next big thing in the food world?
I hope to own my 5/7-star restaurant, world class standard and just be able to open doors wide into the culinary world for others.
What do you do for fun?
Honestly, I cook for fun. I try out new recipes, try to make them better than the previous ones and just feed the world, the ‘world’ being my wife of course.
What is the extent to which your family enjoys the chef in you?
My family are my first tasters. They get to taste my new recipes before I release the, into the world. When I work late nights, I try to bribe the wife by cooking her something. Basically, when I find myself at home, I cook so I would say they enjoy the chef in me a lot.
When you are at home or someone else cooks for you, do they feel pressured to cook you something g fancy because you are a chef?
Well of course they feel pressured. I am a chef. People always feel the need to do so much when really less is more.
How’s your relationship with other chefs I. The country? Is there any form of joint work at any time or you all just do your thing on your own all the time? Whichever the answer is, how far do you think it goes to affect the food industry?
My relationship with other chefs I’d say is pretty amazing. I have had the opportunity to cook alongside major chefs in the country at events like the GTBank food and drinks fair in Lagos. There is no current joint work in the works right now but I definitely look forward to working with all of these amazing chefs in the near future. Two heads are better than one, so u think it’s necessary for us to come together once in a while to share ideas and recipes. To help grow the culinary world in Nigeria.
What’s your role at Red Dish Chronicles?
I am the founder, CEO/Head of Chef of Red Dish Chronicles
Can you tell us something we don’t know about Red Dish Chronicles?
Easy. Red Dish Chronicles is the number one culinary school in Nigeria.
Is there any top chef in Nigeria today that passed through Red Dish?
There are quite a number of top chefs who have passed through Red Dish Chronicles and now work in in major restaurants around the country and even the world.
Judging from the trainings and turn up at Red a Dish Chronicles, what would you say about the future of the food industry in Nigeria?
The food industry is only at its prime right now and that’s putting in a subtle way. The sky is the limit for the food industry as we have new chefs every day in the country breaking boundaries and making being a chef not so unconventional anymore. More people are now embracing the idea of becoming a chef.
How is people’s relationship with food in this country compared to other countries you know of and what effect do you think that has on the food industry and on the population at large?
I’ve been to quite a number of countries and I think the relationship with food is universal, everybody loves food. The only difference between chefs in Nigeria and other countries is the issue of limited resources in Nigeria. You can’t really be of world standard when most of the world’s basic ingredients aren’t even available in your country.
Have you ever been involved or carried out any research about foods?
My whole life has been about researching food.
Are there any ingredients that have fallen out of fashion for you?
Not really. There are always new ways to reinvent different ingredients
What do you think is the most challenging ingredient to work with?
I love challenges and so far, no ingredient has been a challenge for me.
What new ingredients or ingredients are inspiring you right now?
There aren’t new ingredients inspiring me right now as ingredients have already been discovered and you can only reinvent new ways of incorporating them into recipes.
Are all chefs the same or there are different specialties and niches? If there are, what really makes the, all different and special in their own ways?
Just like in different professions. There are different specialties/departments. There are chefs who have different focus. Some specialize in African dishes and others Italian dishes, continental etc.
So, do these differences have any effect on their business and career? Do people (Nigerians) prefer and run after one particular type of chef and ignore others?
There are enough different chefs to meet several different needs so I don’t believe the differences have any effect on their businesses and careers.
What are the best restaurants you have eaten at around the country?
I have eaten at a lot of restaurants around the country so, trust me when I say there are a few good ones and they include: South in Lagos, Nok by Alara also in Lagos and Panache Restaurant in Abuja to mention a few.
If you were to open a new restaurant, what style of food would you pick and where would it be?
I would love to open restaurants in every major city in Nigeria but ideally, I would like to start in Lagos and then I would prefer Fusion fine comfort dining.
What’s the relationship between foods and drinks, especially wines, if there are any?
I’d flavours. Wines introduce a distinct flavour to your dishes depending on the age of the wine.
What’s your take on emotional eating? Can it ever come into agree,net with healthy eating?
Emotional eating can never be in agreement with healthy eating because emotions are erratic and healthy eating requires discipline.
What would you say a good food is?
A good meal for me has to beautifully plated, well balanced and perfectly cooked.
A doctor, a web designer, a teacher and a chef. Your pick for the greatest and why?
A chef, simply because food is life!
Going to a culinary school or being self-taught, which would you advise?
Going to a culinary school is best.
What is the prospect in being a chef?
As regards prospects in all fields, your mind is the limit. Express yourself.
Finally, if you were a food, which would you be?
I’d be the chocolate pudding served at Lindeth Howe Country Hotel, England.