Michael Elégbèdé: From Nigeria to James beard on a culinary plate
“I missed home and I wanted to learn about the culture that I’d been so detached from for over 13 years. I wanted to understand the Nigerian food in different parts of the country”.
At a young age, Michael Elégbèdé’s path in the culinary world started by helping his grandmother and mother with kitchen duties at their local restaurant in Nigeria. At age 13, he and his family moved to the United States and during his spare time, he helped his mom with cooking duties at her new Nigerian restaurant. He initially decided to go the medical career route by studying Biology in the University of Chicago, but found himself wanting to fully pursue the culinary arts as a career path instead.
Food became his passion and so he began a more intricate culinary training by getting educated at Alliance Bakery in Chicago where he mastered the art of baking and pastry creations. From there, he moved on to California’s Culinary Institute of America where he attained a degree in Culinary Arts.
In his drive to fully understand the culinary world and refine his skills, he worked across different restaurants in the United States, including the critically acclaimed Eleven Madison Park Restaurant in New York City.
Three years ago, Elégbèdé decided it was time to come back home to understand and explore the food of his culture. Since his move to live full time in Nigeria, he has traveled extensively around most parts of the country and learned a lot about the culture he felt so detached from as well as learning about the food of his people. Now, he is on a mission to tell of Nigeria’s flavorful food to the world with his own refined personal touch.
Last month, he was invited by the esteemed James Beard Foundation in New York City to showcase his story of Nigeria on a plate. Elégbèdé is also the first African living in Africa to be invited by the James Beard Foundation. James Beard is renowned as the Oscars of the culinary world in the United States of America. Going in line with his passion to explore Nigeria and our food culture, he served his version of ‘This is Nigeria’ by highlighting an amazing variation of ethnic food that showcased the foods he fell love with during his travels across Nigeria.
The guests at the James Beard Foundation started their Nigerian culinary journey with hors d’oeuvre aka elevated small chops with a taster of food from the Southwest of Nigeria, moimoi tartlets served with crab, corn, sweet dodo, and ewa aganyin. Then he traveled up Nigeria to a dish that borders both the Southeast and Southwest, puffed eba crisps with charred mackerel, egusi, lemon gel, and spinach. Before moving further up to a favorite Northern Nigerian dish; slow-cooked beef suya with red onions, cabbage veloute, and tomato. These dishes introduced the guests at the James Beard House to region specific dishes that have done a great job in cutting across the lines that border Nigerian regions. In a remarkable way, despite the differences in flavor profile, Elégbèdé was able to create each regional dish in a way that complemented each other.
The first course started with a quick food tour of Northern Nigeria with Miyan Taushe with Squash, Dawadawa, Wara, Tuwo Shinkafa Croutons, and Basil Oil. The second course showcased the amazing seafood culture of the Southeastern Nigeria, Fisherman’s Soup with Seared Scallop, Rock Lobster Tail, Clams, Shrimp, Okra, and Aromatic Spice Broth. And then guests got a load of Southern Nigeria’s favorite, Banga soup in his, Otaiko-Roasted Quail with Mushrooms, Banga Sauce, and Herbed Rice. Finally, he showcased a much refined version of Southwestern Nigerian owambe staple dish Ata Dindin–Braised Goat Shank with Àmàlà, Gbegiri, Ewedu, and Crispy Shallots.
As a wise man from the Southeastern part of Nigeria once said, “A party is not complete if palm wine is not served.” Elégbèdé took Nigerian cuisine to a different level by serving a palate cleansing bowl of Palm Wine Sorbet with Desiccated Coconut Crumble. And topped the night off with Mango Mousse with Chocolate Ice Cream, Velvet Tamarind, Ogi Sauce, and Lacy Gurundi Tuile in a way that left the guests at the James Beard House hankering for more of what the Nigerian culinary world has to offer.
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