A Chef plays a critical role in the society. Their role extends beyond the kitchen, managing other cooks to also planning the menus, ensuring that presentation is on point and even developing new, creative recipes for those unique meals everyone craves. You see, the exciting pictures we see on our plates when we eat out wouldn’t have been so if not for our chefs (Inserts applause).
So Ibiene during this holiday season is using this piece to appreciate all the chefs who have made eating more than just something we do to stay alive. We take a trip to Port Hacourt, the Rivers State Capital (South South Nigeria) to speak with an outstanding chef.
Meet Wisdom Chidubem Noble, a Culinary Arts Teacher, Motivational Coach, Prolific Innovator, Seasoned chef, Catering and Hotel consultant and a humanitarian who inspires creativity. He is also a certified food, beverage and catering manager (MCFP) holds a diploma in business management as well as other safety certificates in food HACCP, catering and hospitality management, marketing and human nutrition.
With this brief background a conversation ensues.
Chef Wisdom Noble: I started cooking as far back as age 12, helping my mom in the kitchen but then I never knew I would make a career out of it, I just enjoyed helping my mom and being able to try out new things. I started working with a catering company named “Menage” in Port Harcourt in 2010/11 and since then I never looked back, in 2015 I had the opportunity of being the resident chef to the MD PHRC then and eventually opened my own catering and event business in 2016 and it’s been an amazing culinary journey ever since. It’s my passion although it never sat down well with my dad, who wanted me to become an engineer in the army (Laughs). I actually love to take care of people however I cannot decide who lives or dies.
Ibiene: How do you know you have made a good meal?
Chef Wisdom Noble: I cook with love and that resonates with my food, a good meal is a healthy balanced meal that is enjoyed by whoever it is presented to. So, when I see a guest, client or even family and friends beam with smiles after having a taste of my meals I know I have made a great meal. Happens all the time though, most times fellow chefs come to my home just to have a taste of my pot of jollof rice, (lolz) and babies call me Uncle Jollof rice.
Ibiene: In some parts of Nigeria till today, some people are still struggling with the idea of a man cooking, more so, as a job/profession, because they see it as a role reserved for women. What were the reaction of people and how were you able to forge through it all?
Chef Wisdom Noble: A lot has changed since when I started out as a chef and in the present day. Frankly, the greatest challenge I had was being able to make my dad see what I do as valuable, secondly the Nigerian atmosphere sees our honourable profession as a domestic help position, but I took my skills to a higher level by making it public, fusing technology with food with the help of social media, I became more of a role model to both the younger generation and the older generation, who nicknamed me Port Harcourt Celebrity Chef, a title I wear with pride. I accepted myself as a cook and a chef, I embraced my inner intuition and my love for the arts and having a woman aside my mom who loved me for being me a cook/chef made the whole journey worthwhile.
Ibiene: What are your guiding principles to making a meal?
Chef Wisdom Noble: Healthy Food, one meal at a time. If it’s not healthy I won’t cook it. Food is medicine, and if it won’t help make you better why serve it. So, my guiding principle is my motto: Healthy Food, One meal at a time. No rush!
Ibiene: Ibiene’s readers are good food lovers. Please give us four healthy food recipes that can be sourced in our local markets and tried at home.
Chef Wisdom Noble Recipes:
One traditional local healthy recipe is garden egg stew and boiled yam.
1. Garden Egg Stew:
15 Thai eggplants aka green garden-egg.
6 plum tomatoes.
1 large white onion.
¼ cup palm oil.
1 scotch bonnet pepper chopped.
340 g smoked mackerel the equivalent of one large mackerel skinned and de-boned.
1 tsp chicken/ vegetable bullion.
1 small handful of Clove basil aka Nigerian scent leaf/Thai basil.
Salt to taste.
Optional: 2 tbsp dried shrimp.
Optional: Extra dried chilli-pepper.
To prep the eggplants, take off the stems, wash and quarter each eggplant then boil in salted water for 10-15 minutes.
While the eggplants are boiling, slice the onions into half-moons, dice the tomatoes, roughly chop the basil, and flake the fish.
Once the eggplants are fork tender, drain them, and mash them with a potato masher or a fork. They should be the consistency of crushed tomatoes, only slightly more chunky.
In a deep sauce pan, heat up the palm oil for 2 minutes (be careful not to heat the oil for too long or over high heat, unless the oil will bleach), and gently sauté the onions and scotch bonnet peppers until it is softened and starting to brown ever so lightly on the edges of the onions.
Add in the tomatoes, and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce thickens, and the oil starts to raise to the top.
Add in the smashed eggplant, and continue cooking on low-medium heat for five minutes.
Add in the smoked mackerel, dried shrimp, and bullion, stir and continue to simmer on low heat.
At this point, taste the stew, and adjust for salt, and if you are like me add some extra dry pepper for a little bit more heat. Stir in the chopped basil, and turn off the heat.
Serve warm with a side of your favourite carbs.
2. Efo Riro: Yoruba Vegetable Soup:
This Nigerian spinach stew, also called vegetable soup and natively known as “Efo Riro”.
4 pounds of spinach chopped.
1 pound of cooked meat of choice I used fried Tilapia for this presentation.
1/2 pound of small fresh water shrimp.
2 roma tomatoes.
1 red bell pepper.
1 large red onion.
2 habanero peppers.
2 cloves of garlic.
1/4 cup palm oil/ annatto oil.
3 tbsp powdered dried shrimp.
Salt to taste.
To prep, blend half of the red onion with the tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic, and hot pepper. Chop the other half of the red onion.
In a deep sauce pan or stock pot, heat the oil and saute the onions over medium heat until its golden brown.
Add the blended tomato mix, and allow to cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid the mix from burning.
After 30 minutes, the sauce should be significantly reduced, at this point season it with powdered dry shrimp and salt to taste.
If cooking with cooked red meat or chicken, add them to the sauce at this point. If using dried mushrooms, re-hydrate and them at this point as well.
Add the fresh shrimp to the sauce, then add the spinach. At this stage, the spinach may look too much, but allow to sit in the pot for about 1 minute.
Gently stir the stew and the spinach until the spinach is wilted till about half the its original volume.
Adjust the seasoning with salt to taste if necessary. At this point I added the fried tilapia, stirred and served.
This stew is best served warm and freshly cooked.
3. CHICKEN SALAD:
•2 cups cubed, cooked chicken.
•1 cup cubed, cooked potatoes.
•3 cups raw, cut up vegetables such as cucumber, carrots, white onions, lettuce, potatoes, cherry tomatoes etc.
•1 clove garlic.
•1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly grind pepper to taste.
•3 tablespoons of vinegar.
•1/2 cup olive or canola oil, or a mixture of the two.
• Cook 8 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, lightly salted (poach or pan grill) and cut into cubes.
•Cut potatoes into cubes, or peel and dice 2 medium or 1 large potato, cover with lightly salted water in a small saucepan and cook until just barely tender, about 15 minutes.
• Peel the stalk and slice crosswise into coins. Peel and dice the carrot. Rinse the tomatoes and slice in half, or leave whole, if preferred.
•Then chop the vegetables.
•Mix everything together and add about 1/2 cup vinaigrette. Stir gently. Add more dressing if you wish.
1.5 cups of black-eyed peas.
1/2 large bell pepper.
2 scotch bonnet/ habanero peppers.
1/2 cup neutral unflavoured oil I used sunflower oil.
1/2 large onion I used a red onion.
8 oz smoked de-boned fish broken into small pieces.
3 tsp bouillon.
3 tsp salt or salt to taste.
1/4 – 1/2 cup hot boiling water.
3-4 broad sheets of banana leaves.
To skin the beans, soak the beans in water for 3 minutes, after about 3 minutes, the skin of the beans should start wrinkling a little bit.
Place the beans in a food processor, with water, just enough to cover it, then pulse the food processor about 5- 6 times to agitate the beans. This process breaks the beans up and separates the skins from the beans. Watch out for splashing water!
Pour the skinned beans in a bowl. Rinse several times to wash off any loose skin, draining the skins with the water with each rinse. The skins should come off easily because the skins are lighter and should float easily to the top.
Once the beans are clean, soak them in water for at least four hours or over-night.
After the beans have soaked, drain the water that they have been soaking in, and rinse the beans one more time.
Blend the beans with 1 cup of water, the bell pepper, scotch bonnet peppers, onions and bouillon.
Place the blended beans in a bowl, mix in the oil and salt thoroughly then thin out the mixture with the hot water until it resembles the texture of a light cake batter (you may need less than 1/2 a cup of hot water, just make sure the texture is like a light cake batter).
You can taste the mixture to adjust for salt (it will not taste good at this point since the beans are raw but at this point you are just tasting for seasoning).
Prep the ramekins by brushing each one with oil on the inside like you would a cake pan. Fill each ramekin with the mixture till it is about 3/4 full, and then top it with a piece of fish.
In a deep pot with a properly fitted pot cover, place a sheet of banana leaf, and pour boiling water into the pot till it is about 1 inch deep. Place the ramekins into the pot, on top of the banana leaves. The hot water should not be more than half way up the ramekin.
Cover the ramekins with a sheet of banana leaf.
Depending on how wide your pot is, you may need to layer the ramekins in the pot. To do that, simply place the additional ramekins over the second sheet of banana leaf that covered the first layer of ramekins, then cover that layer with another sheet of banana leaf.
Cover the pot, and allow it to steam on low heat for 50 minutes. After 50 minutes, check the moi-moi. Just like a cake, a skewer inserted into the middle of it should come out clean. If it doesn’t, allow it to continue steaming for another 10 minutes.
Allow the moi-moi to sit for 5 minutes then serve warm in the ramekin or unmoulded.
Question 5: What was your worst day as a cook?
Chef Wisdom Noble: Honestly, I can’t remember the journey has been amazing all along and storms come but they don’t last. Okay there was this one time I was in Abuja and a friend pressured me to take a job in Port Harcourt to cater to guest I agreed, took the next available bus heading down to the city and called a friend who cooks to help me prepare the soups while I do the rice dishes, we agreed and all I got back finished cooking my other dishes only to call my friend to find out she never prepared anything (Laughs). The stress that day was crazy, but in the end I and my team delivered.
Question 6: Any words of advice for potential cooks, whether male or female?
Chef Wisdom Noble: If it’s up to be then it’s up to me. Our profession promotes growth, never see yourself as insufficient. Diligence and consistency are two major keys for growth in this field, stay strong, focused on self-development and stay creative. Why don’t you go ahead and try at least one of these recipes even during the holidays? Remember to post on social media and tag us on Instagram.