Chef Jumoke Toyobo is a soulful adventurer living in a world of vibrant flavours and culinary artistry. Jumoke adores life and delicious food, infusing her creations with passion and excitement. As she navigates life’s twists and turns, she embraces the journey with unwavering enthusiasm. Join us as we delve into her culinary voyage, from childhood memories in the kitchen to her prestigious position as Executive Chef at Xenia Lifestyle.
On #MCNWorkLife this week, Jumoke discusses the triumphs, hurdles, and delightful fusion of tradition and innovation defining her artistry in Nigeria’s dynamic food landscape.
Pretend you’re someone else for a moment. How would you describe Jumoke Toyobo?
Jumoke Toyobo is a vibrant, adventurous soul who adores life and delicious food. She’s a true Leo and knows how to bring fun and excitement to any gathering. Her genuine passion lies in revolutionising Nigeria’s hospitality sector and creating unforgettable culinary experiences.
I love it! Alright, let’s start at the beginning! How did your culinary journey begin and what sparked your interest in becoming a chef?
My interest started at a super young age watching my mother cook. It was a sort of ritual. Once she was going to the kitchen, I’d march right behind. I loved watching Food Network, which eventually influenced me to learn more about food far from my culture. We had so many kitchen tools at home, so experimenting was fun. My grandmother was a fantastic cook, too. Her stews were a highlight every Christmas.
And now, you’re an Executive Chef at Xenia Lifestyle. That’s pretty exciting! Can you walk us through the key milestones in your career that led you to this prestigious position?
I believe it’s a combination of all the experiences I’ve gained. I started at a restaurant in Portsmouth, and I became keen on knowing if this love for food was worth investing in, and I fell in love with the kitchen. Growing from a sous chef to kitchen manager at The House, training at a Michelin-star restaurant, and working with Jose Pizarro in London. They all led me to me where I am today.
It’s safe to say your commitment to the craft has paid off. What hurdles did you encounter along the way, and how did you overcome them?
I faced a few hurdles, and I’m grateful to God for getting me through them. People don’t tell you how physically tasking the life of a chef can be, but with time, I got the hang of it.
Sourcing certain ingredients in Nigeria can be challenging, but I’ve bridged the gap by having a network of suppliers across the country.
At this stage, what keeps you motivated and passionate about your work despite the challenges in the fast-paced culinary industry?
Cooking is an art close to my soul. I do my best to make sure no factor, person, or establishment taints my love and passion for the culinary arts. I would rather remove myself from any inhospitable space than let it affect my drive. The smile on the face of my guests, the taste of an amazing meal I make, and the compliments of how my food evokes happy emotions in people. Those are all key motivations for me, I’m just sharing my heart on a plate with love through my food.
From your experiences, could you share some of your culinary journey’s most memorable highlights?
My proudest moment was taking part in the GTBank Food and Drink Festival. I got to work and train in a Michelin-star restaurant and learn from Asimakis Chaniotis. It was such an honour.
The food industry in Nigeria has seen tremendous growth in recent years. What unique aspects or trends have you noticed in the country’s culinary landscape?
The growth in Nigeria’s food industry is truly remarkable, and I’m genuinely proud to witness and be a part of this culinary evolution. What excites me the most is the genuine passion and dedication. We are elevating culinary experiences and creating unique and memorable meals. The fusion of traditional flavours with modern techniques sparks joy. It celebrates our rich culinary heritage while embracing innovation.
It’s equally inspiring to see our farmers growing more exotic produce locally. It adds vibrant and diverse elements to our culinary landscape and experience.
Speaking of elevating culinary experiences, how do you balance staying true to your culinary roots while experimenting with new and innovative concepts to cater to changing diner preferences?
Ah! Finding the balance between honouring my culinary roots and exploring innovative concepts is an adventure! My love for food and cooking has deep roots in cherished memories, and staying true to those flavours is vital. Embracing creativity while preserving the essence of my culinary heritage keeps my passion alive. I love to push the boundaries by infusing cultural ingredients in unexpected ways. It’s about taking diners on a thrilling culinary journey, relishing in familiar tastes in contemporary ways.
Who inspires you in the culinary world?
I’ll start with Marco Pierre White; he gave me insight into what it meant to cook with quality ingredients and the value of an exceptional culinary experience. Gordon Ramsey taught me discipline and drive are admirable and self-taught. He is always willing to learn and improve, even with fame and status. Anthony Bourdain invoked the curiosity to explore flavours. I admire Heston Blumenthal’s creativity, especially in molecular gastronomy.
Food plays a significant role in culture and community. How do you incorporate Nigerian culinary traditions into your dishes, and what impact do you believe it has on your guests?
I incorporate it by making a crumble from garri or making pesto from egusi seeds, yam gnocchi, etc. I could go on because the possibilities are enormous. It is grounding; this way, I get to share the nostalgia of home with internationally influenced techniques.
Pesto from egusi?! I’m curious. What is the most unusual ingredient you’ve worked with, and how did you turn it into a delightful culinary creation?
I would say it was nutritional yeast. Not because it is unusual but because it was part of a vegan pasta recipe, and that was intriguing. Applying it in a non-baking element, working with different varieties of seaweed, and learning how to cook with them was interesting. In the end, I got a phenomenal fish dish out of it!
I don’t doubt that. You’ve given more insight into what you do; thank you. What’s your advice to young women building careers in the culinary world?
Follow your dreams and do what is required to attain the knowledge that aids you in the culinary world. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s so rewarding. Focus on quality standards. Good work will speak for itself in time.
Collaborations are key! I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for the amazing people I crossed paths with along my journey.