Chef Izu Ani – Interview
Unraveling cultures through flavors!
Chef Izu Ani as the Brand Ambassador of the Badoit, the premium sparkling natural mineral water in the United Arab Emirates. The Nigerian-born chef has lived in London, Paris, Spain and established the highly successful and upscale La Petite Maison and La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie restaurants in Dubai. Both restaurants are widely popular amongst the discerning denizens of the UAE as well as tourists who are regaled with Chef Izu Ani’s degustation. We spoke to Chef Izu about his culinary journey, his inspirations, and his future plans.
Tell us about yourself and how your culinary journey started?
Chef Izu Ani: I was born in Nigeria, raised in London, lived and worked in France, Spain and now in Dubai. I’m the owner now of my own company, ‘YSeventy7’ and a Partner/Head Chef at The Light House in D3. In addition, I’m the brand ambassador of Badoit Sparkling natural mineral water in the Middle East region since 2014. Growing up in London, my passion for the kitchen began during home economics classes at school. After my studies, I joined David Lloyd Leisure as an apprentice which through a lot of tough love, set the foundations for my career in the kitchen. I then launched into my career by joining Michelin-starred “The Square” in Mayfair.
I’ve always had a hunger for knowledge and curiosity for all cultures. So, after my first year at The Square, I was inspired to travel to France to experience Nouvelle cuisine first hand. I then returned to London 5 years later as Chef de Cuisine at The Square where I stayed for another 3 years. Always on the hunt to acquire knowledge, I moved to Spain where I spent 9 months working for free (this is the price you pay) to gain experience and insight with Michelin star restaurants ‘Arzak’ and ‘Mugaritz’. You have to give something to earn something later on. After Spain, I returned to London drawing on my inspiration in Europe, not only through the cuisine but through the teachings from some of the greatest chefs in the world! These teachings and life lessons have stayed with me ever since, knowledge which I pass on to my team, my chefs, my guests.
I live by the ethos that life is not about ownership, everything is learned and borrowed and when you learn that nothing belongs to us, you can consider that you have learned only a small proportion of what there is to learn in life.
During my return to London, I joined Vanilla and relaunched the menu based on my travels and experience in Europe, which then resulted in being persuaded to launch La Petite Maison in Dubai. During my time at La Petite Maison Dubai, I made it to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in less than two years. I adapted the concept from Nice to fit the market in Dubai, bringing the sharing concept to the market, as well as different layers of flavours and most importantly, focusing on sourcing and using only the highest quality ingredients in my cooking.
In 2012, I was offered the opportunity to create my own restaurant in Downtown Dubai – La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie. I literally created my dream restaurant, a Mediterranean concept spanning over two floors consisting of a Bistro and a Boulangerie. Within a few months of opening, La Serre picked up the “Best Newcomer” award from What’s On and was named Esquire Middle East’s “Number One Restaurant in the UAE”.
What does it take to be a successful chef and a restaurateur?
Chef Izu Ani: What is success? It could mean so many different things depending on your definition of the word. For me personally, success is seeing people happy in your restaurant. Success is also sharing my many years of experience with those who appreciate it. I take pride in people coming to my restaurant who don’t know me and they place their trust in me. Can you imagine that? It’s an overwhelming sense of achievement.
I would also say success requires passion and a lot of it! You must also possess the mindset dedicated to what you believe in and stay true to your principles. Also, having the mentality of being giving, hospitable and of course; respect, respect for people placing their trust in you.
Success is always the fact to have an idea and to achieve the idea into reality, when you create a concept, the final result is always different from the original idea but always evolves in a positive way. Sharing ideas with passionate people, multiplies the idea and that vision has been shared and understood. Success is an exchange of mindset.
As a chef, what has been the most interesting experience you’ve ever had?
Chef Izu Ani: Being a chef enabled me to discover so much about the world and people, it’s a never-ending discovery of new cultures, new ingredients, and understanding culture. My ethos is understanding everything I do and having the hunger to learn more.
I went to the home of Badoit where I spent time learning more about this incredibly beneficial water, I learned that Badoit is full of good, natural minerals which our body needs and the bubbles are natural which come from the gas collected underneath the rocks.
What is your favorite type of cuisine?
Chef Izu Ani: I don’t favor one cuisine over another; I appreciate all cuisines which inspire me to bring many different layers from different cultures to my cooking. Each cuisine is inspired by one another and is then developed by culture. For me, food is culture and I love to dabble with all cultures around the world.
What is cooking for you…?
Chef Izu Ani: Travelling, I love traveling. I’m always trying to develop myself, enhancing what I know and learning what I don’t know. Cooking is learning more about cultures and having that multicultural understanding. Cooking is always about sharing, I always use this example, when you watch a funny film alone, you laugh but when you watch it with others, you laugh louder. It’s the same with sharing food. I always like to slice my passion fruit cheesecake into slices because it means everyone has shared a piece of that experience and it always tastes so much better when shared!
What inspires you to cook?
Chef Izu Ani: Everything starts with the ingredients; they are the inspiration for any dish and dictate the direction you take. If you want to understand them, they will let you into their secrets, they will speak to you if you want to listen.
I am always inspired to experiment with Badoit for it allows me to enhance an ingredient. For example, I cook potatoes in Badoit since it has minerals that help the starch to come out and rise to the surface which then makes the surface crispy, yet retains a nice fluffy texture on the inside. I also always cook green vegetables in Badoit because the unique texture of this water allows the vegetables to retain natural minerals, preventing oxidization.E
Tell us about your partnership with Badoit?
Chef Izu Ani: Badoit is a natural product and the perfect fit for me as we share the same principle; it’s not contrived as it allows me to strive to the best I can be while creating my recipes. I was chosen to be Badoit Brand Ambassador in 2014, and since then our partnership is simple and direct as I focus on the unique qualities of Badoit. It’s a brand I have a deep respect and appreciation for and the team behind it are extremely passionate about what they do. Being around passionate people who love what they do always inspires me.
Do you find that the very special taste of Badoit limits your creativity in developing new dishes?
Chef Izu Ani: Badoit doesn’t limit my creativity, but rather enhances it. However, going back to the basic principles of being a chef, if you understand your ingredients and know how to use them correctly then you know when and when not to use Badoit in your cooking.
What are your future plans?
Chef Izu Ani: I have some big projects coming up through YSeventy7. We have projects in the U.A.E, Saudi Arabia and across Europe. I am always making myself feel uncomfortable to make myself better. If you allow yourself to settle in your comfort zone, it stifles creativity. Being uncomfortable allows for growth and the never-ending search for understanding makes you realize when you understand something, you understand you know very little, this spurs you on to understand more.
Naturally, I find myself spending more time with Badoit, we recently spent an all-nighter filming the Ramadan campaign at The Light House which was fun! I would also love to work with Badoit on NPD in the future too.
Chef Izu Ani shared with us the recipe of Badoit infusion with lemon and rosemary and honey. Stay tuned for more recipies…
Badoit infusion with lemon, rosemary and honey
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
A sprig of rosemary to garnish
Begin by zesting the lemons and oranges, then juice both into a liquid measuring cup – you should have around 250ml of juice. Top up with still water if necessary to make 250ml.
Combine the zest, juice, rosemary, sugar, and honey in a saucepan over a medium heat. Boil the liquid for one minute, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Strain, discarding any solids and let the syrup cool completely.
To serve, fill a glass with cubed ice, add 30ml of your pre-prepared syrup and top up with Badoit. Garnish with a rosemary sprig.