From building fires with sticks and twigs to the ultra-sheen of a luxury modern kitchen, food is intricately tied to the survival of the human race. Interwoven in the process of making and eating food are both past and present memories, stories and experiences. Several Nigerian chefs have set themselves apart by using their craft to tell the story of the people and culture of a diverse country through cuisine.
One of Nigeria’s finest chefs, Chef Michael Adé Elégbèdé, owner of ÌTÀN Restaurant and ÌTÀN Test Kitchen, is revising and modernizing Nigerian cuisine in the very heart of Ikoyi, Lagos. At Itan Test Kitchen, he and his team explore Nigeria’s rich heritage as they delve into refining the style and taste of Nigerian indigenous food.
Michael Elegbede’s Origins
Michael Elegbede has been dubbed a ‘mad scientist’ by some who are familiar with his methods. He combines his love for experiencing food with his expertise in culinary art to create modern Nigerian food unlike any other.
Elégbèdé comes from a culinary lineage. He attributes his early years living with his grandmother as what sparked his love for Nigerian traditional food and cooking. When he moved to the United States in 2003 at the age of 13, he helped out at his mother’s restaurant as often as he could.
After college, he enrolled in The Culinary Institute of America, Napa, to study Culinary Arts, going against his family’s wishes for him (being the first child) to study medicine (it’s a universal Nigerian thing). He interned at the renowned Eleven Madison Park Restaurant in New York—voted Best Restaurant in the World, 2017—under the tutelage of Chef Daniel Humm.
To everyone else, he was a brilliant chef with a bright future in European culinary art. But for him, there was no personal connection with the food he created. So, he moved back to the motherland in 2016, to familiarize himself with foods that set his heart racing and resonated with Nigerian culture.
Returning as a Nigerian-American chef after several years, Elégbèdé had to adapt to a system he was not used to. For one, he had to kiss constant electricity goodbye. Also, Nigerians are a tough bunch to impress, so he spent a lot of time traveling all over Nigeria to learn and to be inspired by the different foods and cultures.
How Chef Elegbede is Transforming Nigerian Cuisine
In 2018, Elégbèdé enticed the palates of guests at the renowned James Beard House dinner. (The James Beard Foundation (JBF) award is the most sought after award in the food industry; like the Oscars but with men and women that can whip mouth watering dishes on the runway.) His menu titled, This is Nigeria, was his delightful vision of Nigerian delicacies from different parts of the country: Miyan Taushe with Squash, Dawadawa, Wara, Tuwo Shinka Croutons and Basil oil from Northern Nigeria. Ata Dindin-Braised Goat Shank with Àmàlà, Gbegiri, Ewedu, and Crispy Shallots from Southwestern Nigeria. Fisherman’s Soup with Seared Scallop, Rock Lobster Tail, Clams, Shrimp, Okra, and Aromatic Spice Broth from Southeastern Nigeria. And Banga soup with Otaiko-Roasted Quail with Mushrooms, Banga Sauce, and Herbed Rice from Southern Nigeria. Talk about a rich indigenous spread!
Elégbèdé and his team at ÌTÀN’s test kitchen are still telling strong stories with food using locally sourced ingredients from all over Nigeria and a fusion of traditional and modern culinary methods. His tasting menus like In Diaspora, have been received with relish and high praise from his guests. He was named one of the 50Next Hospitality Pioneers (Class of 2022) for his determination to change the perception of Nigerian dishes and ingredients in the local and international culinary art landscape.
FCMB Flexxzone: 5 young Nigerian chefs you should know
Otago Daily Times: A taste of Nigeria
James Beard Organization: Why this chef is bringing Nigerian food to the table
Instagram: Chef Michael Adé Elégbèdé
Official Website: ÌTÀN Test Kitchen
Visual Collaborative: Michael Elegbede
Fine Dining Lovers: Out of Africa: Michael Elégbèdé’s Platform for Global Change