Nigeria can earn billions from food exports – Imoteda Aladekomo
Nigeria can become a tourist destination if our local food is exported to the international market.
It is not so common to wear heels in the kitchen due to constant motion and the need to have a balance, however, Chef Imoteda, as she is best known, will have none of that. As far as she is concerned, there can be a touch of glamour in everything, even in the kitchen, while displaying her culinary skills at Heels In The Kitchen (HITK). But Imoteda Aladekomo, the Chief Executive Officer of this dramatic Kitchen, didn’t originally start off cooking. As dramatic as her name and brand are, Imoteda spent about eight years freelancing as a Makeup Artist. During this period, she worked with Africa Magic Original Films as Head of Makeup and Hair. She even opened her own store in Ikota to show off her dexterity, but had to close it when things didn’t turn out too well. She then revved up her passion for food with Heels in the Kitchen, a platform she plans to use to revolutionise the food industry, and showcase Nigeria as well as the African continent to the rest of the world. For Imoteda, there is always room for improvement, and she is never afraid to try something new. So, packed with a degree in Social Development Studies, and a minor in Women Studies, from the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada, she shares her passion and vision with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH, on the place of entrepreneurs in Nigeria’s economy and the many challenges they face.
Who is Chef Imoteda?
Imoteda is a Cordon Bleu trained chef, who has long shared her passion for cooking with family and friends. She conceptualised and created Heels In The Kitchen while exercising her vast creative abilities in the makeup and entertainment industries and she has valuable experience behind the scenes of television and movie production. She enjoys spending time in the kitchen and creating amazing but easy meals for her family and friends. She brings a unique understanding of being a working mother in Lagos, who after a long day of working in heels, must go into the kitchen to cater for her family; something the target demographic knows all too well.
In 2016, she created The Nigerian Fusion Food Tour, which was a seven-city tour that showcased Nigerian food in new and exciting ways. It made stops in Lagos, Abuja, London, Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta and Toronto.
What is Heels in the Kitchen all about?
Heels in the Kitchen is a food service company that provides a range of services including but not limited to private chef services, catering for events, food content provision (recipe videos, content for brands and also a TV show coming soon, titled: Heels in the Kitchen). HITK is focused on providing good food and content with emphasis on customer service.
Why Heels in the Kitchen, and what informed your decision to go into the food sector?
The “Heels” bit came from the fact that I didn’t own any flats at the time. I live on heels, and that includes when I am cooking. Even my bathroom slippers are wedges. I thought it would be fun to create a different kind of cooking show with more glam, especially since we, Nigerians, love fashion. I watch the Food Network a lot and was bothered by the lack of black faces in the food television world. I also thought it sad that as prominent a nation as Nigeria is, there is no reflection of our culture and palates on television. I decided to do a cooking show that fixed that. I went to culinary school for training, and while I was there I rediscovered my love for cooking and the service industry, and I made the choice to become a chef full time, not just for the show.
What other business have you tried out, and would you say you finally got it right?
I’ve been a freelance makeup artist. That actually worked out well except for the shop that I had to close down in Ikota. There are always higher heights to grow, so I can’t say I’ve got it right. There is still a lot of room for improvement in my company, my business and my skill but I can say that I think I’m finally on the right path.
Nigerians have repeatedly raised concern about the quality and safety of food offered in outlets across the country, how can this be tackled?
This starts with setting up the necessary boards. We need a Government approved health inspectors’ office that will make regular visits to outlets to inspect, making sure that they are up to standard and clean. Actually, I guess creating a code would be the first step; at the moment I’m not sure one exists that is strictly followed and enforced.
As an entrepreneur, what are the challenges you encounter operating in Nigeria?
There are the usual challenges plus a few extras. Access to funds to grow and expend is always an issue. The lack of power is a major one as I work with food that has to be refrigerated or frozen and the electricity going out when I’m not around usually means loss of goods. For example, last weekend I wasn’t around for three days, and it turned out there was no power for those three days; everything in both fridges were ruined.
Another thing is access to good and reliable staff. There are not a lot of training schools that can train people to the level that I need to work with me, which means I have to train them myself. And often, once you train people to a certain level, they think they have gotten all they can from you and run off to start their own businesses.
How can the food and beverage sector add value to the country’s economy?
It is time to export our food to the international market. We should promote agriculture and food culture. The government needs to regulate the food industry. We need a cooking hub where people can be trained and retrained. We need to export our local food. If we focus on food export, we can raise billions of naira annually from agricultural export. By so doing, we will be opening up new markets. Nigeria can become a tourist destination if our local food is exported to the international market.
I have a friend that exports millions of kilos of zobo leaves to Mexico yearly with no support from the government. Imagine how much more he could do if the government helped? That’s income from exportation of agricultural products being ignored. I’m planning a food tour to Italy and Mexico for next year. Why can’t people plan food tours to Nigeria? China has a Culinary Ambassador, and that person’s job is to display Chinese food and make it appealing for people to come try it. Nigerian needs to catch up with the rest of the world, and fast too.
How is the current economic situation in Nigeria affecting your business?
I’m thankful that it hasn’t been as bad as one would think. I know people that have had to close shop. We’ve lost some clients because when things are hard, people start to eat rice at home but thankfully we’ve been able to do more production work to balance that out. Things are picking up again and for that I am thankful
Statistics indicate that start-up businesses die easily in Nigeria, where do you see your kitchen five years from now?
Five years from now Heels in the Kitchen will be a full-fledged production studio creating content for network and brands on a regular basis. We will have a physical studio in a warehouse that is capable of shooting four to five different videos a day with unique sets. That’s where I see my company in five years.