Nigerian Chef Alex is one of our favourite pastry chefs in Nigeria. Read our review on XO Bakery’s Profiteroles.
Chef Alex is the owner of XO Boutique Bakery, pastry chef at Tarragon restaurant and chef instructor at the Culinary Academy in Lagos. He clearly has a strong passion for food from the simple to the exotic.
Thanks to Chef Alex for taking the time and keeping us entertained with his responses.
What name do you go by?
Any nicknames you’d prefer us to use instead?
Where is home for you?
Is where you’re living now different from where you grew up? How so?
I grew up in Ibadan. My childhood was a lot simpler and idyllic than most city slickers. We went swimming on Sundays with the folks, and there was fun around the tennis court, also lots of food from around the world as my mom is a Naija wife. This kindled my interest in food from a very young age.
Do you cook for pleasure or as your profession? Both?
Both. I even find myself going to work on my fabled “day off.”
Where did you learn to hone your culinary skills?
I learned to cook and bake from my mom whilst growing up. I honed my skills in Vancouver, the culinary capital of Canada – at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts.
Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts has been launching careers in the Culinary, Baking & Pastry Arts since 1997. Located at the entrance to Granville Island (Vancouver, BC Canada), a vibrant and bustling community where food and artisan merchants display and sell their products, PICA is dedicated to students’ success.
What are you up to right now?
Do you have a restaurant or bakery, open or opening soon? Product(s) you are launching? Starring at an event soon? Any news you will like to announce? Whatever it is, we want to know all about it!
I am working towards the opening of XO Boutique Bakery on Victoria Island. This is my baby – the number 1 reason I moved back home to Nigeria. Follow us @xobakery on Instagram and find more information online at www.xobakery.com.ng. I’ll also be featured in the second annual Fiesta of Flavours this December at Harbour Point VI Lagos.
Cooking is one of the best ways to let your mind wander while creating something totally unique and delicious. When you’re idly chopping, stirring, and frying, what are you most o en thinking about?
I often don’t think about anything at all whilst cooking. Perhaps this is the reason I find cooking relaxing and therapeutic.
Everyone’s got a kitchen tragedy – their stove went up in flames, they melted a spatula, dinner was ruined. Tell us about your last disaster (so the rest of us can feel a little better about ours!)
I once left some bread starter to slowly ferment in the fridge overnight. Unfortunately, I’d used too small a bowl and the thing exploded all over he fridge like in a horror movie!
I kept saying: “I need more height! I need more height!” Elegant New York style cheesecake with @bachour1234 recipe super shiny white chocolate glaçage, and tempered semi sweet chocolate garnish (thanks Sanne @my36chocolates for making this ???????? Nigerian chocolate, and sending some over for me to play with!)
See this Instagram photo by @alexcooksfood * 152 likes
Assorted viennoiserie to brighten up a rainy Lagos day. Pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins, cashew frangipane and berry Danishes.
See this Instagram photo by @alexcooksfood * 156 likes
Who do you credit for your love of cooking? If it’s someone special, tell us all about them.
I’d credit my love for cooking to my mom and her friends. They are from all over the world and there was always some exotic food or bake to explore.
If we were to step into your kitchen right now (don’t worry, we’re not looking at the dirty dishes), what would you be cooking? What would we smell, taste, or hear?
I would be making choux paste for cream puffs, you’d smell coffee brewing for a cremeux and zobo reducing for a sauce. You’d hear the kitchenaid whirring and if you’re lucky I might let you lick lavender pastry cream off a spatula.
See this Instagram photo by @alexcooksfood * 92 likes
See this Instagram photo by @alexcooksfood * 132 likes
African food is very diverse, which makes it so mysterious for most cooks around the world. How would you describe African cooking to someone who lives somewhere totally different, somewhere like Iceland?
I would describe African food as completely in tune with Africa’s diversity. African food is rich in heritage, steeped in tradition and can be quite difficult to gentrify, so you’ve gotta travel around the continent to eat authentic African. It’s spicy, utilitarian, excessive and sublime all at the same time! Staples are starchy tubers and grains, leaves, and did I mention herbs and spices?!
What’s your ultimate African “comfort food”, the thing that takes you back to being a little kid in a big world?
Iyan and Efo Riro or Amala ati Ewedu plus Gbegiri
What are some healthy bites you enjoy in your kitchen?
I get this awesome kosher honey and dried fruit muesli from a lady in Lagos, it’s da bomb.
Are you the type of person to measure everything out, or do you cook more intuitively, “eyeballing” ingredients as you go?
I measure, because I’m a baker. Haha
When someone takes that first bite of the tasty, delicious food you’ve prepared, what kind of reaction are you always secretly hoping for?
I prefer silence, as that usually means they’re enjoying the food.
My favorite kitchen tool is the Silicone Spatula – I’m amazed at how versatile it is in the kitchen. It mixes, it scrambles, it scrapes, it stirs, it folds… I can go on! What’s yours, and why?
Silicone Mat or Silpat – it’s like parchment paper that never gets obsolete.
Vanilla or Chocolate?
Where do you typically shop for your food?
If you were one of the Spice Girls, which “Spice” would they dub you?
In your opinion, what’s one of the most underrated ingredients used in African cooking?
Hibiscus or zobo can really be elevated into something special.
Some like it hot! Are you into sweating, panting, eyes watering spice in your food, or do you like mellow dishes?
Mellow for me, please. There’s a fine line between spicy and too damn hot.
What’s a spice you like to use that packs a TON of flavor in just a small pinch?
What’s one ingredient you love, but others may be scared to use?
Here’s a challenge! Tell us about your pantry – using only one sentence.
What’s your #1 birthday meal request?
Shakshuka, lox and a bagel with freshly pressed tropical fruit juice.
What is your main culinary pet peeve?
What is your culinary Superpower?
I have the uncanny ability to utilize savoury herbs/spices in desserts and make them taste damn good.