Chef 101 Catering Service is an indoor and outdoor event catering service based in Lagos. In this interview with OLUYINKA ONIGBINDE, Managing Director and CEO, Mr Babatunde Adejokun speaks on the prospects of the Catering Service business in the nation, challenges inhibiting the sector and sundry issues. Excerpts
What’s the concept behind Chef 101?
Chef 101 is more or less an industrial catering service company where we offer a wide range of services to companies and individuals in Nigeria whereby satisfying people at their place of event such as parties, weddings and all kinds of ceremonies with utmost professionalism and cleanliness needed in the catering business, more so chef 101 can prepare over 101 delicacies
For how long have you been in the catering business?
Well, I have been in the catering business close to a year now. Although my mother has been a caterer for over 28 years, I went into the business fully about a year ago
Why catering? What motivated you to go into the catering business?
I love good food and hosting. I just love it. It is one passion I have. This was why it was easy for me to decide on becoming a caterer. I entertain people in my space and attend a lot of parties and I am always thinking about what value I can add to the events I host and attend. Catering is not just about cooking, it is about bringing people an experience in the presentation and in the taste of the food, so I look to offer a uniqueness with Chef 101 and an experience like no other that makes our food stand out in taste and presentation leaving guests impressed.
I come from a family of people in the food business, I have relatives that own restaurants and that are great cooks, the men in my family set a great example for me as a good number of them can actually cook and know what good food is. Good food is ingrained in me. My mother being one of them in the food business is my number one inspiration and my flair for the catering business is definitely inspired by her. She brings a unique flavor to her cooking that makes her food stand out and that is a great source of motivation for me.
One year down the line, how fulfilled are you?
Well, glory be to God. It has been a great learning experience and a very rewarding one. The catering business is not without its challenges; there are clients that pose difficult in fulfilling their end of the bargain, there’s the issue of inflation due to various predictable and unpredictable factors and there are other unforeseen circumstances that pop up; staff issues, logistics, etc. I am an optimist though and I choose to overcome any and all road blocks and deliver the best to the client, regardless of the circumstance. The quality of the experience I deliver comes first and I believe with that frame of mind I am able to tackle all other problems successfully. There is no reward without sweat and hard work and when most reasonable clients see the quality of my work they are happy and I make repeat customers out of them, which is the end goal.
Looking back from where you started, how much have you grown?
My growth has been steady. I’m not rushing a lot of things. My idea of a industrial kitchen is way beyond what we are used to in Nigeria. It’s difficult introducing the concept I would like in Nigeria, but my growth so far has been steady and God has been faithful.
There are lots of catering businesses around. What sets yours apart from the rest?
One of the things I work on, which we don’t do often in Nigeria is this: everybody cooks, some people cook better than I do, frankly. What a lot of caterers lack is professionalism, timeliness and cleanliness. Those are the key areas I work on.
Timeliness in the sense that we It never happens. I don’t like it when people call me on the phone to know where I am. If you tell me 12 pm, I want to be there an hour before. I never disappoint my clients because of time.
Service in the sense that we don’t rush. We only serve the best. We are immaculate with cleanliness and presentation. Even if heaven is falling on top of earth, we serve people with dignity. We dignify service.
Premium service matters a lot to me. When I get to a venue, I dictate the pace of my service. I take time to explain this to clients and they are always happy to know their events are in good hands.
What other challenges do you think is affecting catering business in Nigeria?
As I stated earlier, a major challenge is inflation, which one cannot control, but only work around. Another major factor is the unwillingness of some caterers to go for the best, they do anything to cut costs and get the job by all means and they end up delivering a shoddy job and customers tend fall for the lower cost only to end up disappointed. This threatens the integrity of a good caterer like myself initially. I do not compromise on quality and that is hard for customers that are being frugal to appreciate at first, but those who give us a try are never disappointed. I have had people who made the mistake of compromising and not giving us a try come back with regret and a better understanding of what Chef 101 b ‘n’ tees has to offer. They usually come around, unfortunately it may be after being let down by a desperate caterer, but people are learning that there is no short cut to quality food and good service, which is what Chef 101 by ‘n’ tees is 100% about.
Do we have a body regulating the catering business in Nigeria?
Yes, we do have a body that sees to that. it falls under the Food and Drugs Services industry, so we have a body that controls all the affairs and I do have a certification from Hotel Restaurant Café Bakery and Bars (HORICAB) mentor. They are the training partners of the global Food Service Industry of the State University of New York. So, it’s an international Certification, and HORICAB is the only training partner that represents them in the whole of West Africa.
It is believed that some caterers do not take to cognizance, some health effects of what they prepare, how true is this?
Yes, that’s true. We heard about plastic rice, plastic spaghetti, unrefined oil and so on which so many caterers do not take cognizance of. They just believe, “I need to make my profit,” and because many people see it as a one sided job, many of them do not have adequate training on how to give quality.
As I mentioned, Chef 101 is trained by HORICAB and that training includes safe food practices and maintaining healthy food production environments. In addition we give our staff monthly refresher training and conduct inspections of their work space and ensure that they are properly kitted for every job.
We have Standard Operation Procedures that cover cleanliness, safe food temperatures, proper etiquette and a dress code that ensures there is no contamination; gloves and hair nets are taken seriously and our cooks and servers are well trained and professional in all aspects from purchase of produce to cooking and serving.
In what ways do you think the Government can support the catering business in Nigeria?
I believe if the government can help to reduce inflation on goods and services, and also ensure that substandard are not allowed in the country.