INTERVIEW WITH JEREMY CHAN: IKOYI

Thu 06 2017  |  admin

Q. When and how did you start working in the hospitality industry / as a chef?

I started around 6 years ago when I left my job as an analyst at a renewable energy investment company. I always knew I wanted to cook so I started staging and working in a bunch of different restaurants.

I had always wanted to create my own things, food wise, and I’d always wanted to have my own business and before I’d done any training in restaurants or worked in restaurants, I always dreamt that I’d create something amazing with food.

I’d read a thousand cookbooks so I figured I could do it all without realising that I’d actually have to learn how to cook and stand the long hours and suffer! Initially I was drawn to the creativity of cooking but then I really fell in love with the brutal side of it and the rigour of it all.

So I initially started staging at Hibiscus with no experience at all. I walked into the kitchen in a pair of converse and jeans, everyone else was obviously wearing chef whites and hats. It was a pretty stern environment. The kind of environment where the most junior person shouldn’t really even speak but I just walked around with my notebook asking questions about absolutely everything, from recipes to techniques. I actually still have that book and all those recipes. It was an amazing way to learn.

From there I worked in a lot of different little places, brasseries and small restaurants in London until I worked at Noma for 3 months followed by my time at Dinner by Heston.

Q. Can you tell us a bit more about Ikoyi – the opening/cuisine/concept etc?

So my best friend and business partner Ire, and I decided that we wanted to open a restaurant together and create something that was totally unique to both of our backgrounds and cultures and something that truly communicated our passion for hospitality.

After working for all these other places, we knew we wanted to do it in our own way and the first idea that came to mind was to explore West African ingredients and cuisines and use these flavours and incredible ingredients and come up with a new way of cooking.

We found all kinds of ways to express ourselves and experiment because it’s really just such a vast universe of products and smells and tastes and sensations that people haven’t really experienced before on the one hand, but also on the other hand; flavours and ingredients that have never been taken into an experimental context before. Not in London at least!
Aesthetically, our food is going to be original and flavour-wise it’ll be original too and we’re really feeding that into the design of the space, the service and of course, the people we’re hiring too.

But ultimately we simply don’t want to sacrifice on quality and deliciousness – that’s the baseline of all our dishes. We have this idea of universal deliciousness and try think of things within that context. We cook it so long as it fits within that realm of flavour.

Q. What sort of people are you looking for to join the team? How would you like to define your approach to service?

We’re trying to create a warm and welcoming environment where everyone is a somebody. Our customers won’t be put into those Mayfair style hierarchies. Our approach is to treat everyone with the same level of welcoming and with the same attention to detail and passion. I dont think its something that’s done in London enough to be honest and we really want to emphasie that in all of our training.

We’re also looking for open minded people that truly appreciate quality in product and craftsmanship and creativity in cooking. We’re looking for people who are willing to push themselves and who are totally on board with our mission to create an incredible experience for the guests. That’s ultimately the shared goal we all want to have.

Our ideal candidate is someone who leaves knowing they’ve had a great day cos they’ve blown someone’s mind with great hospitality. And of course a passion for wine and flavours and new ideas. Is that asking too much? 😉

Q. If you could give one very important tip to a budding chef, what would it be?

People think you need to spend like a minimum of 8 years learning how to cook, but no, you just need to be able to process information quickly and apply what you learn practically. A lot of chefs will spend 6/7 years slogging away in someone else’s kitchen but I really don’t believe it’s necessarily the best way of becoming a chef or a restaurateur.

You need to have your own ideas so soak as much information as you can, ask as many questions as possible and move on!

Q. What is more important to you in a candidate? Training or passion?

Passion!

I look for people that listen and people that don’t make the same mistakes twice. People who have a positive, proactive attitude and of course people who are professional and respectful of others.

Q. What are your top 3 most important recruitment/interview tips for someone looking to work in a top venue?

  1. Do you research and understand who the people are that you’re applying to. What they’re about and what they’re looking for you so don’t go in with any misunderstandings from what they’re expecting
  2. Self presentation is so important! Clean fingernails. Attention to detail in personal appearance is a big one I think.
  3. Come prepared with the right questions to understand what the job is about and how you’re going to get paid. The employer will respect you more if you have any idea of what your pay structure should be. Know your worth!

Q. What’s do you think is going to be the signature dish at ikoyi / what’s yur personal favourite?

I like the Wild Black Nigerian Tiger Prawn – that’s definitely my favourite and potentially the signature dish too. I think it’s a really cool dish because it totally signifies what we;’re doing with West African ingredients and food.

I like the firstly because it’s a product that comes from Nigeria which isn’t necessarily known for luxury sesfood but that’s exactly what this product is. It’s got more meat than a lobster and has this deep ocean flavour. You can make an incredible bisque out of the shells and I personally think the best part is the head and brains.

Q. What trend are you most excited about in the london restaurant scene at the moment?

Persian cuisine which hasn’t quite popped up yet but I think it’s coming soon.

Q. What are your 3 favourite restaurants in london? And what are their signature dishes?

  • Brawn – no particular dish but I always feel very welcomed there and it always delivers. It’s always good and consistent and homely
  • Noble Rot – the turbot with crab bisque sauce; simple but well executed and unpretentious
  • I like Beijing Dumplings which is a small dumpling shop in Chinatown. Their steamed pork Xiao Long Bao are incredible. It’s just super straight forward and they deliver the same every time

Q. What does the future hold for you? Would you like to open more concepts etc?

I think we’d like to explore. I think Ikoyi is the beginning of our understanding of West African food. We’re definitely not saying our restaurant has mastered this project or this concept yet so we have a lot to explore within this restaurant.