Event: Nigerian Food Fusion Tour Lagos (NFFT)
Venue: Habour Point, Victoria Island
Date: December 2016
Menu: six dishes (two starters, two main course, two dessert.)
Facilitator(s): Heels in the kitchen (Chef Imoteda [& Chef Fregz])
By Kelvin Kellman.
After years of catching a glimpse too many on Food Network, the adventurer in me was rustled to reach out to Chef Imoteda following a notice on her Facebook page about the Nigerian Food Fusion Tour (NFFT). Like the narrator of Telephone Conversation, I too, warned her that I hated a wasted journey. As a foodie who wasn’t quite the connoisseur yet, I asked that she extend to me the 411 of what is expected of me. In little time she responded.
“Nothing really. Come with an empty belly and an open mind,” she said. But she also warned: all tickets must be bought in advance; no payments at the door. And so with my fifteen thousand naira paid into the provided account, I braced myself and began my fast.
However, on the date, by some unsavoury eventuality of fate, all the ATMs within the purlieu of my living space decided to malfunction. Cash strapped, I began a voyage to all the ATMs outskirts my locale. I found one. And while waiting, it would seem time was on a sprint. For over two hours I stayed on the snail-crawling queue, edgy. With five persons in front of me, I thanked my stars that finally the ordeal was over. Then it happened. The machine boldly declared: Temporarily unable to dispense cash. Was this some scheme to thwart my adventure? I wondered. Was some super-human eye looking down at me and getting the best of this divine comedy? But like most things tested on the Bunsen of perseverance, I prevailed. I found me a willing ATM that doused my tetchy fire.
At Habour Point – venue of the NFFT, the tables were set with a brilliance that elicited a surreal ambiance. Glass beads against a backdrop of black tablecloth, so that its reflection glistened with pronounced spectrum. Floating lit candles in glass wares, precise opposite symmetry of the dinners and so on. But Heels in the Kitchen commenced a tad belatedly, spilling a little over the earmarked 7:30PM, and on account of this the critic in me came to fore. And when Chef Fregz came up to introduce himself as he introduced a starter, he appeared to talk at us and not to us. More so, he was sweaty. Also the name struck me as one apt for a DJ than a chef. Fregz.
The first dish was Chicken pepper soup with pumpkin and its foliage. Splendid presentation but the leaves were somewhat too dry. The food left me wondering what heated ordeal the leaves must have been subjected to so that its texture was papery.
In the meantime Zainob, a lady with an unadulterated, guileless smile asked us what our choice of drink was. She was one of those types difficult not to like, competent at her post nonetheless. While everyone opted for the Zobo juice, my obstinate head craved for exclusivity, divergence. I opted for white wine, cognizant that my body and wine never make good bed fellows. Half way into the wine my eyes began to testify and my head started an independent circus of sorts. So respectably, I beckoned on Zainob and requested Zobo like the rest of my comrades at dinner. We ate in silence but for the Caucasian at the table, a lady with hair a darker sheen of blond, who somehow found a balance between talking nearly every minute and devouring her meal.
In little time the second dish was served. Seafood Moimoi. This was moimoi, Prawn cake, Saunted Greens and Herbs. Chef Imoteda came up to introduce herself and her dish. At this point it became clear that it was a rotation between her and Chef Fregz. At the sight of herbs I began to wonder if the facilitators had it in mind that perchance we were seventh day Adventists or humanoid ruminants of sorts. Even though I did not understand the physiology of the herbs against the milieu of the moimoi dish, I found myself excitedly devouring the meal with delight. Chef Imoteda skilfully flourished in indulging our palates; I was done in no time. Still listening to the blond talk, I glanced over and found her plate, and that of others empty clean.
Chef Fregz came up with the third plate. Suya: Steak, Tomato Jam, Onion Textures and Suya Jus. With one taste, I instantly tried to rename it. Diverse suggestions hit me but two stood out. Suya Redefined and Suya Metamorphosis. Although the meal had the distinct flavour of regular street Suya, it didn’t lose the significance, air and tangibility of a decent meal.
Yam and Goat meat was the fourth item by Chef Imoteda. 8-hour braised goat, yam textures, sweet corn, ugwu and goat jus. One taste and I assumed: this is some jedi-jedi business. It was a splendid meal but for the goat meat which seemed overcooked− giving way at the slightest touch of silverware. The fifth item on the menu was primed and introduced by Chef Fregz. With different sweetened spaces, I thought: this is my forte; my calling. Sugar! Chef Fregz could have taken anyone to heaven and back on this plain. This was no jumble of different syrupy palate arresters on a plate. This was art.
The NFFT finale had us glaring down at a white, sweetened jelly-like mass with berries and mint. It was perhaps the Clove panna cotta, a name that somehow brings the pottery Terra Cotta to mind. That was not all, it was sprinkled with a dark, blood-red syrup that on inquiring, I was told was Zobo Syrub. It couldn’t get any more curious. The sweet jelly made the combination of them all amiable in taste.
At past nine, and with a belly aching full, I left the venue of the NFFT, and had to scuttle back to the mainland lest I end up writing a different story. While we all exchanged in departing pleasantries, I chanced a look at the facilitators’ feet, and it became evident that none wore a single heel (the event was titled Heels in the Kitchen). Of course my expectation excluded Chef Fregz, But Chef Imoteda and her band of kitchen savvy ladies donned something else. Without doubt the heels in the brand name was figurative, but perhaps,and in good humour, a new name could suffice: Sneakers in the Kitchen!