Friday, April 26, 2013

I hardly eat at home – Chef Hounsa

LUCIEN Hounsa is a proud chef. His father was a chef and his eldest son  is also a chef. Though he never dreamt of being one, but his father’s  insistence  forced him into the profession in his native country of Benin Republic. Today, Lucien Hounsa is the Executive Chef of  Ibis Hotel, Lagos with experience garnered over  forty years  in different African countries.
In this interview with JIMOH BABATUNDE, Hounsa said he finds it difficult entering the kitchen at home and urged Nigerians to ensure they have at least a chef in the family. Here is an excerpt from the interview .
ON his journey to being a chef
After my secondary school  in Cotonou, Benin Republic, I went to the catering school of  Hotel Des Deputes, Porto Novo also in Benin Republic. Luckily for me, I came from a family of chefs, my father was one and my son is also a chef . I have  never in my life dreamt of being a chef . I wanted to become an engineer, a scientist but my father always said  he wanted me to come into the profession, being a chef .
Seeing the suffering my dad went through as a chef then, I said there was no way I will  become a chef too, not knowing that with time it will become a sort after profession.  Today, cooking is a sort after profession . That was how I became a chef, after my secondary education  I went to the  catering school based on the insistence of my dad , I started working as apprentice cook  in Hotel Des Deputes  in 1962 and I was there till 1966. After  my apprentice I was employed in the same hotel as a Commis, a kitchen helper.
Chef Hounsa
Chef Hounsa
As a commis,  you do all the small jobs in the kitchen like peeling potatoes,  the vegetables and so on. After a year as a kitchen assistant , I was promoted to be a cook  and that it has I progressed until I came  to Lagos  in 1972 . In Lagos , I worked for Nigeria Catering hotels , they had a  Panache restaurant in Mainland Hotel, they had Cassa pepper restaurant in Palmgrove  among other restaurants they had then. I became  one of the  chefs controlling the restaurant.
From there I  moved to Eko Hotel in 1977 when it was opened , I was  there for ten years , it was there I met the present GM of Ibis  hotel, Richard Robaix.  After ten years there, I was transferred back to my country Benin republic to open  another Novo Hotel in Cotonou.  I was  there for another ten years  before I retired, after  my retirement I went to Burkina Faso  where I opened an hotel, I worked for three years  before going back to Cotonou.
Six months later  I was  back in Lagos to join Planet One in Maryland, I was there for nine months from where  I went to another  hotel in Lekki . I did not spend more than six months there  because of the standards of the hotel. It was while there that the GM  of this hotel who I had worked with in the past told me not to leave Nigeria again as they were working on this hotel then. After a year, he called me to come over  and that was  how I came here to open the restaurant in 2011.
Coping as a young chef and the first thing he learnt how to cook
The first thing I learnt how to cook  was vegetable, potatoes to be precise.  From preparation to cooking , there is technique for cooking .
On the best food he likes preparing
They are so many, but  one which many chefs will see as being simple is spaghetti , but it is not as simple as many thought. There are many ways to prepare Spaghetti. It is not supposed to be over cooked, it has timing. To know if your spaghetti is well cooked , you take one of it from the hot water  and throw it on the wall, if it sticks to the wall, it means it is cooked but if it falls down then it is not yet done.
On what inspires his cooking
I love being creative and this inspires me.  A chef has to be creative, you seat down to think if I  mix flour and egg together without yeast and if it comes out well, you as a chef gives it a name  and  that becomes  your speciality. If it does not come out well, you  jettison it.
On the food culture in Africa
I will tell you honestly that I will want the chefs to put more efforts into preparation of local food, because the  foreigners that come into our countries  want to experience our food, but some chefs don’t like touching African local food. This is very bad. We should promote  our local food.
On food that has impacted on him as a child
I love okra  and this has impacted on my cooking as a chef.
On the funniest thing to teach a chef
The first thing to teach a young chef is hygiene. A chef must be clean. A chef  must not grow beards, a chef must have short nails, a chef  must be clean. So the first thing to teach is hygiene. I will advise parents to ensure that they at least send a child to catering school to become a  chef. The profession is  a good one  and it pays, but you need to like it to do it.
On the gadgets he likes using most
Almost everything  in the kitchen from oven  to knives, blender to  cooker  are all important.
Experience working at Ibis Lagos and its food culture
I am happy  working with  a good team here  from the General Manager  who is the chief marketer  to  the last person here.
Once you are lucky to work with a wonderful team you will  always be busy and that is what we have been doing in the kitchen as our guests satisfactions is a testament to what we produce in the kitchen. People come from far and wide to eat here because of the quality and taste of food we serve them combined with the ambience of our hotel.
On weather he eats or cooks at home
(Laughter)  this is a good question.  I hate going to the kitchen at home.
I don’t do that because I spend almost all my time in the kitchen seeing food , vegetable. So, when I am at home I stay outside the kitchen.
Eating at home? Yes, I do. But my wife  is always disappointed because  she goes out of her ways to prepare the best food for me  only  for me to ask for  small smoked fish with pepper and garri soaked in water. This is because I would have  seen all she prepared already for that day. You imagine the disappointment the woman is facing as my wife.