On a faithful Friday night, I decided to reward myself for the hard work and excellent results I had achieved during the week. While scrolling through Instagram, I looked for the perfect restaurant to satisfy my craving for a luxurious treat. After a few minutes, I decided on one.
I was hoping for an excellent dining experience and was looking forward to posting the aesthetically presented food on Instagram. Instead, the entire experience was scandalous. Bad food, filthy premises, and a bad attitude. For starters, I ordered a chicken burger with cheese. After a 20-minute wait, I was served a partially frozen piece of meat in my burger! I quickly canceled the rest of the order and left. Some restaurants just don’t have a clue how to treat their customers! I mean they basically just write cheques their customers can’t cash.
A Whatsapp message popped up as I was meditating on the entire experience in an Uber back to the hotel. I’m going to interview a restaurant owner. What a coincidence that on the day I had my worst experience in a supposedly luxurious restaurant is also the day I am asked to interview a Chef. That was how I got to meet Chef Nkesi.
Nkesi Enyioha is the Executive Chef and Owner of HSE Gourmet, a restaurant in Lekki, Lagos, and based on my interactions with her, I found her to be a warm and friendly person, as I assume all chefs should be; perhaps with the exception of the chef at the restaurant where I was served cold meat. She started working as a private chef more than ten years ago, shortly after graduating from Ashburton Cookery School in Devon, UK.
She is an expert in fusing African and Asian flavors with European techniques. Her first restaurant, HSE Café (now HSE Gourmet), opened 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 GTB Food & Drink Festival.
While HSE Gourmet has thrived, she has also launched Sabor. A modern, casual restaurant located at 14 Adeola Hopewell Street in Lagos. A visit to Sabor’s Instagram page, @sabor.lagos, reveals a plethora of visually appealing dishes and snacks that will make you salivate. However, I’ve learned to take anything on the gram with a grain of salt, so I sent a mystery shopper to investigate. He described Sabor as an elegant and thoughtfully designed space that exudes intimacy from the moment you walk in. He ordered the crispy, deep-fried crabs with a glass of pineapple juice.
Sabor and HSE Gourmet, in my opinion, are among the very few restaurants that provide the perfect dining experience.
In this interview, renowned Chef Nkesi discusses her journey from the bar to the kitchen.
I would like to think that You chanced upon your current career. I mean you must have wanted to be a Pilot, lawyer, or any other profession from Childhood. When did it all change for you?
I actually am a lawyer, lol, I know right, easy guess for a Nigerian from my generation. Since I was a child aged 5, I’ve always liked the idea of cooking, it always fascinated me and my mom happened to be the world’s greatest cook. As soon as I was done with uni ( because I knew I had no choice I had to go to university) I decided that I was going to pursue a career in culinary arts and that’s what started me on this journey.
When you’re remembering your childhood, from the point of view of scents, aromas, and feelings, what do you remember first?
The smell of food, my house always smelled of something delicious because my mum was constantly experimenting in the kitchen and we had a lot of small gatherings.
What are your first memories in the Kitchen?
Thinking about it now, I guess I started off as a prep cook, being asked to chop the onions, carrots etc in preparation for my mum to cook.
The hospitality and restaurant industry has become an “all-comers affair,” with restaurants sprouting up all over the place. What makes Sabor Lagos unique?
Me! Lol I’m joking but the answer will still sound cliche’. It’s because we truly care. For me this job isn’t strictly for financial reasons, it’s my life, it’s passion and I’m not sure I can do anything else. As the founder and CEO of Hse gourmet, Ohuru by hse and co founder and executive chef Sabor, I am 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.
Do you think there is a need to have an independent agency that grades and categorizes restaurants in Lagos?
This isn’t a bad idea at all. In fact it helps healthy competition. However I must stress that the body is truly competent with a wealth of knowledge, expertise and exposure that allows them to assume a position to grade restaurants.
In your opinion, what makes for an excellent luxurious restaurant?
Fantastic service, High quality food and A beautiful relaxing environment
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.
How would you describe your overall Kitchen or Food philosophy?
“ if they (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”
What three adjectives best define your Kitchen?
All my kitchens are Fast paced, swift and effective
What dish best represents this philosophy?
Practically all our mains
What’s your creative process? How do you develop a menu? What inspires you?
I always start from the restaurant concept, then I do a deep research but ultimately my biggest inspiration is travel. Seeing different cultures express themselves through food is quite a fascinating thing to see
Who would you like to have as a guest that you haven’t had yet?
What do you like about Nigerian delicacies?
The bold bright flavors
Isn’t it an anomaly that the number of female chefs working in professional kitchens these days is significantly lower than the number of male chefs. Given that cooking has traditionally been considered a woman’s role in most African homes?
Yes it is,and I’m happy to be part of changing that narrative. I am happy to say that HSE gourmet has 70% female kitchen staff and we are working to adopt that across all our restaurants.
Do you have or have you thought about starting a culinary academy here in Nigeria?
Not really. Maybe some holiday cooking, something light and fun but not an academy.
You have lived in different parts of the world and possibly tasted a variety of cuisine. Is Nigerian cuisine the best in the world?
As a Nigerian I will have to say yes lol… but honestly there is nothing like “the best” it’s always going to be what resonates with you the most.
What are the three most important things in your life?
God, Family and Career
18. What are you currently working on , what are the future plans of Sabor Lagos? Will you be expanding to other states anytime soon?
I’m working on finding myself personally this year. More restaurants and food related business. Sabor is expanding to a new location which we are excited about. Pretty much world dominance is what’s next for me. LolFollow us on social media