Running a good restaurant in any part of the world entails a lot. However, the regulations guiding it vary, depending on which country. One major issue associated with the business of operating a restaurant is food handling especially in some African countries where regulations guiding the establishment of restaurants are not too stringent. One of the most prominent African Restaurant operators in Europe is Shola Alasonla popularly Known as Obalade Suya . Shola who runs his restaurant with his highly skilled beautiful wife Bimbola, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in this interview with Green Savannah Diplomatic Cable speaks on food safety, a major concern of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.
You are one of the most successful African Restaurant owners in the Europe, what is the secret?
The secret of running a successful restaurant is dedication. Food production is an art, it thus requires a lot of attention . If you are cooking and your attention is not focused on the food, you will end up producing bad and tasteless food. Therefore, running a successful restaurant depends on dedication and focus on the part of the operator. Of course such operator will have to undergo some trainings before commencing business .
Food handling is a major issue in Africa. As a matter of fact, UNIDO in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Health is presently on Food safety awareness campaign in Nigeria. How should food be handled by Restaurant owners ?
Many Restaurant owners in Nigeria need to be more careful with the way they handle food. But this challenge is not limited to Restaurant owners, it is something that affects most homes in Nigeria. Here in the Netherlands, before you begin to handle food for the public, you must be trained. You must have a certificate before you become a cook or operate a kitchen for the public. You have hygiene codes. These codes will let you know how to handle food. It also include your personal hygiene, the kitchen you are using, the knives. For instance, you are not supposed to use one knife to cut everything. Every knife has its own function. You also have to keep the knives clean. Where you are preparing food should be cleaned every 30 minutes or every hour depending on how busy you are. If you don’t clean the kitchen, you will be attracting bacteria in million fold. If you do not take care of the hygiene of where you operate, it means the food is already mishandled.
What are the best ways of food preservation in a Restaurant?
We are lectured here that if you produce food in number, you preserve. We learnt how to use all the tools given to us. We produce in number and preserve, but the situation at home is different. Most food produced in Nigeria are consumed almost immediately. But restaurant owners and others still preserve food. However, I have to say that the preservation system in Nigeria is generally not good enough. That is not to say that all restaurant owners don’t know how to preserve food . Even some Nigerians living here make same mistake. They will tell you that they have party and demand you make food while they keep in cooler. But cooked rice is not supposed to be in the cooler but Thermo. Putting food in cooler destroys the food. Coolers are not used to preserve food. Here in the Netherlands, we have a system of food preservation under the food authority. Two hours maximum is when you can put food in the Thermo . After two hours the food has to be consumed.
Not keeping food in the cooler for about four or more hours as many do ?
That is totally wrong. That is why you see people complaining of stomach upset after eating. Let me however say that we have a lot of talented cooks in Nigeria, but preservation is where the problem lies. Many still believe that food has to be kept in the cooler. If you don’t have the right things to keep the food warm, you spoil the food.
Many Restaurant operators in Nigeria close shop say one or two years after commencement of business. You have been in business for years selling food to Africans in the Netherlands, what would you proffer as solutions to the challenge of Restaurant owners closing shop prematurely?
Let me answer you like this. Here, before you open a restaurant, you have what is called business plan and I’m sure many do same in Nigeria. If your business plan is good enough, it can attract investors. Before you go into any business, it is necessary to acquire education about such business, then you choose your location. Many of our people don’t consider that. When they have money, they just go and rent any available space. Every business has its own location. You have to choose the right location, otherwise you have a lot of work to do. However, if you find yourself in a corner you are not supposed to be, then you have to work hard on the internet, I mean social media. You also make your food of high quality. With that you can attract people to your corner. The problem is some people just say oh, I know how to cook, then they just open restaurants. If you open a restaurant because you believe you can cook, that might not work. Cooking in the house is different from cooking industrially. In industrial cooking, you have to know the volume of what you use in every production. Many think you just put food on the table. In this part of the world, we have people who know what you put in the food once they taste it. Some people will sit down and tell you about seven things you put in your food. What I am saying is that a lot of things have to be done in Nigeria for people to keep themselves going in food business. Many don’t know how to manage money. They believe that when they make money today, they will still make tomorrow, our people really have to work on that, if you start a business, you must understand that every business has its cost. You have to remember that you will to pay rent, tax, electricity tariff and other charges. You have to take all these into consideration. These are the things people must consider before going into food business or any other business
Food poisoning is a big issue in Nigeria, how can it be avoided?
It sounds odd but it is a statement of fact that some eat anyhow when they go to any function where free food is served. They want to eat everything together. Food is life, but when eaten wrongly or produced badly it can turn to poison . We should watch what we eat and produce. Some foods are good but if the eater is not disciplined, the food may turn to poison. It is not only bad food that is poisonous but the manner of eating of some people. However, food has to be produced in clean environment. If you come to my restaurant you know what I’m talking about. My wife is an excellent cook and I can say I am still learning from her. We have unique ways of cooking and food presentation. Back home, if some people want to cook Egusi( melon soup), they put everything inside the soup, goat meat, tripe , fish, bush meat, crayfish, etc, then they will call it assorted soup, but that is not healthy. This is one of the causes of food related diseases or running stomach. In this part of the world, people also mix food together but not the way our people do .Fish, meat and other proteins have separate processes of cooking buy when you now cook everything together in a pot, that is not good enough. In my restaurant, we have different types of stew, we don’t just mix everything together, separate stew for meat, fish, assorted meat, etc., not putting everything together in one pot. So, if you cook fish with goat meat, chicken, beef and others together and you still keep in the cooler for several hours, then the food becomes unfit for human consumption.
Obalade Suya Restaurant
Bullewijkpad 29, 1102 LB