FEED: Q&A with CHEF ROTIMI ALABI on Dinesurf

How Bread Making still daunts him

By: Pearl Chukwuemeka

For this launch, we are starting with Rotimi Alabi (popularly known as Chef Ro). He is a 30 year old renowned Nigerian Chef and Head Chef of ChezRo who started cooking alone at the age of 7.

He started cooking full time in December 2018 after working as a fashion stylist for 4 years and part time as a TV presenter for 2 years. Within the 4 year time frame, it’s been a fantastic journey for him ever since. Asides the daily lunch orders online, he also does private dinings mostly, and has a few other things in the works as well.

Here Rotimi shares with us his favorite dishes, culinary disasters, what inspired him to start ChezRo, advice for novice chefs and so much more.

What is your favorite dish to cook and why ?

I don’t really have a favorite dish to cook really, but most Nigerians relate to rice and pasta a lot and these two can be perfect blank canvases that can take up almost any flavour from any culture in the world.

Chef Ro's Gochujang Coconut pork penne
Chef Ro’s Gochujang Coconut pork penne

What inspired you to start Chezro? 

I’ve always been in love with food. Mostly the cooking. I was always with my mother in the kitchen as a child, and I started cooking alone at about 7 or 8. Needless to say it was a disaster, but it never stopped me. I’d always had people tell me to actually cook for people, but I never took it serious, I’d managed to convince myself that if I took something I loved that much, and decided to turn it into a source of income or a job, that I’d lose the joy in it, and boy was I wrong, because I’m still very very happy cooking for people. Creating unique culinary experiences for them. Taking their taste buds on a journey of discovery. It’s incredibly satisfying for me. 

How do you come up with new recipes and dishes?

I’m always researching and reading, expanding my knowledge, Trying out new things. I also just have random ideas pop into my head, and think, I wonder what that would taste like if I made it this way, with this ingredient, etc, and that’s usually what leads me to creating something new. I also get bored very easily, so I want to keep creating something new, as the thrill of something new intrigues me. 

What are some of the most important skills for a chef to have in your opinion?

Taste. Smell. Keeping an open mind. Knowing how to sharpen your knives and very good maintenance  of your utensils and work space. Good hygiene levels. And most importantly, never being afraid to explore. There’s virtually no limit to what you can create in the kitchen. 

Chef Ro's Lasagna
Chef Ro’s Lasagna

What are your top ingredients that you always have in your kitchen?

Top ingredients for me are spices and condiments. I’m very very huge on Asian cuisine and flavours, specifically south East Asian flavours. So I have a lot of spices and condiments from those cultures. Another thing I try to have is fresh herbs. They always brighten up the dish, whatever it is. 

Have you ever had any culinary disasters while cooking, if so, how did you handle it/them?

I feel like I had disasters earlier on in my life, before I started cooking full time. Also managing them can be chaotic, but I’m a very “quick to solution and sulk later” kind of person, and this has helped in a lot of unsavory situations, be it a kitchen mishap, or service mishap or delivery mishap. 

Do you have any advice for novice chefs who are just starting out in the kitchen?

Never stop learning. Never stop refining your craft. Never stop imagining. No matter how good you are, you can always be better. Your only competition should be yourself. 

When you’re not in the kitchen, where do you like to eat in Lagos?

I don’t eat out often, but HSE gourmet food has never failed me. Arguably the best (restaurant) in Lagos. 

Chef Ro's Asian braised pork with pearl onions and chillis
Chef Ro’s Asian braised pork with pearl onions and chillis

What is one dish that you can’t make but would love to learn how to cook someday?

The one thing I think still daunts me is bread making. Baking can be such a precise science, but bread making is in a league of its own even in the baking world. I feel like once I hack that, I’d have even more fun exploring more aspects of the culinary world than I currently do.