Makeup artist turned chef, Imoteda Aladekomo, was bothered by the lack of black and, more specifically, Nigerian faces representing food on television. She created Heels in the Kitchen, a TV cooking show with a fashion and style edge that teaches viewers how to create meals while providing interactive content.
“I thought it would be great to have a show hosted by a Nigerian with a focus on fashion and glam because Nigerians are a very fashionable and ‘peacock-like’ people,” says Aladekomo. “After working in film and television production for over three years, I realized that I could actually do this. So I quit my job as a makeup artist and got my culinary degree to become a full-time chef. I was scared to the point of puking at the thought of leaving my job as a makeup artist, with my steady pay, to try something new. The fact that I did it still wows me.â€
With a vision to create a TV network in Nigeria that rivals the Food Network, Chef Imoteda, a Cordon Bleu trained chef, intends to create more shows exploring the diverse flavors of Nigeria and branch out to Africa.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the ambitious cooking fashionista to learn more about her journey and the lessons learned along the way.
BlackEnterprise.com: What makes your business different than other culinary-related businesses?
Imoteda: A major difference is a focus on glam and fashion. People expect chefs to be super practical people, but I believe that there’s nothing wrong with rocking a great pair of heels in the kitchen; as long as you know you can balance. Also, the food industry in Nigeria is really in its infancy, so the focus on creating more gourmet-style meals is still really new here.
Describe your cooking style? Where do you find inspiration for your food?
My cooking style is family style; a lot of home-made recipes with easily accessible ingredients, a ton of flavor and a simplification of complicated processes. The inspiration for my food comes directly from my stomach. I create things that I want to eat. My favorite side-dish, bacon greens, was born from my need to eat bacon and “efoâ€ (a traditional vegetable stew from the southwest region of Nigeria) at the same time.
Since launching your business, what has been your biggest challenge?
Funding is the biggest challenge that I have faced. Do you know how much a good food processor is? A lot. Also, sourcing quality ingredients can be pretty pricey because the most easily accessible stores import a lot of their goods driving costs up.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Initially funding came directly from my immediate family and myself. I would never have made it this far without the support of my family. Once I had managed to establish myself as a serious business, I was able to reach out to individuals to invest in my business. As far as sourcing ingredients goes, I have worked hard to create a network of local farmers who also need the funds to be able to deliver quality products. By working together, we have managed to grow both fields.
What have you been most surprised to learn about yourself?
How resilient I am. If you had told me this time last year that I would hear ‘no’ so many times, spend so many hours in the kitchen perfecting one dish and still wake up eager to do it all again the next day, I might have argued with you.
What do you wish you had known then, that you know now?
I wish I had known that you could have a plan and everything in its place and still not achieve your goals. That’s just the nature of the beast. And it’s not a reason to give up. You just have to try again and try harder.
What, in your opinion, is a huge myth about entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurs don’t sleep. That annoys me. Do you know how hard it is to function on no sleep? Your sleep-addled brain is no match for the sharp wits trying to out negotiate you. I see so many people who feel shame at sleeping and I want to tell them all, quality over quantity. The hours you put in don’t count for anything if you’re only putting in 40% of what you can. I set aside time to handle what needs to be handled and I make sure I get sleep. The only time I forgo sleep is when I literally have to be on a location working.
List your top 3 resources you use to manage your business?
- Family- My family is my top resource. From acting as sounding boards to being on the board of the company using their personal finances, my family is my number one resource.
- Mentors- I have three official mentors. One is a chef whom I respect and, thankfully, he lets me pick his brain every once in a while and constantly gives great advice. There are also two amazing female entrepreneurs, one who used to be my boss and set up one of the most successful African Makeup powerhouses, and another who left her accountancy job to set up a successful landscaping company.
- Google- Don’t judge me. I have been asked to create menus and recipes that I had never even heard of and a quick trip to the bathroom with my smartphone saved me.
What qualities have helped you succeed thus far?
Resilience. It’s tough to start a business from the ground up and sometimes the urge to give up can be strong, but my ability to bounce back from setbacks (and there have been a few) keeps me in the game. Also, my actual technical skills, I made sure to get my training and not just rush into the change blind. My experience in production has been priceless, as it prepared me for a lot of the difficulties new productions face. I’m also a very optimistic person and I’m quick to laughter. A quality that serves you well when you have a fridge full of dressed quail that goes bad because someone unplugged the fridge to charge their cell phone overnight without realizing it.