Moment / 24 Jan 2020

Interview | Ikoyi

FINE: We are honoured to have you here today. Thanks for giving us this opportunity to get to know you more. OK. Could you brief introduce yourself in one sentence?

Jeremy: I am Jeremy, head chef and co-founder of Ikoyi, and I have been living in London for 7 years, half Chinese, half Canadian.

FINE: You have a very international background. How has this experience moulded your perspective?

Jeremy: I think my background is the total foundation for me, I'm lucky to have grown up in the different parts of the world and have parents of different cultures. It has let me see things from many different points of view. Not just food related, also culturally, helped me to have an open mind, I think that's a huge influence when it comes to food. It allows me to mix and match all kind of things, keeping an open mind. Actually, in a way it kind of makes me feel like there is no culture, everything is just a way of doing something, (culture) it is just something in common but different ways of approaching it. I was born in England and grew up in Hongkong until 7 or 8 years old, then I moved to England, my dad lives and works in the US and Hongkong, my mum is Canadian so I spent a lot of time growing up in Canada as well, so I travelled a lot to visit them in different parts of the world. And after I left school, I went to university in America, I travelled a lot so I speak different languages, I also lived in Beijing for a while, pretty lucky and I get used to it.

FINE: When did you want to be a chef? What is your typical daily routine in the kitchen?

Jeremy: I was pretty bored with everything in my life, and I just found cooking is a really good way to release energy. I have a lot of energy. I worked different types of job; I don't like being sat down. When I cook, I just keep creating and constantly learning, there is so much to learn. I started cooking when I was 15, I wanted to cook for my family and made amazing food, so everyone is happy, it's a way to control family dynamic to have a good time.

For daily routine, I usually wake up pretty early, speaking with suppliers about meat and produce that we want to work with, checking with fish deliveries that will come in, we work with some in-credible suppliers in the UK. So my day starts by making sure the deliveries are coming in, our fish is from southwest coast and northeast coast of the UK, so there is a lot of coordination in the morning. I do everything, I also do dishwashing, and handle vegetables. I have tiny kitchen so I want high quality produce.

FINE: You have an interesting point of cooking in analytical way. Could you please share how do you develop a menu? What is your creative process?

Jeremy: Texture is very important. My method is simple but very precise. Probably two years ago, we have a taste menu, but I have developed it hundreds of dishes two years of work. What I usually do is I often think about products or an idea, then I think of every possible manipulation around that idea and define its unique characteristics, keeping it familiar yet delicious. Delicious is a very generic word, but it isn't for me. For me delicious equates to different taste. I use these things really carefully and logically; it kind like an equation, not mathematical, little bit research, all these combined, it's like put argument together, a best possible argument for dish is more like best view point of deliciousness of this product. We think in terms of really calculated way.

FINE: Will you cook for your family and friends after work? How long does each meal take from preparation to finish at home?

Jeremy: Yes, superfast, we make a lot of rice, eggs, stuffs like that, something really quick and healthy. Just chilling out, complete different from work.

FINE: It is relatively rare to use West African ingredients in London. What drove you to the idea of developing your cuisine using these ingredients, instead of Chinese or British?

Jeremy: Spice is really important, but African food is not that spicy. I have been to Africa; I was inspired when I was there, and I found the flavour was amazing. Also, African ingredients is a new knowledge to me. I understand French, Canadian, Spanish, European cuisines. I have tried these stuffs, and the African ingredients just expands my imagination. I can have more things to cook in the kitchen. There are no boundaries at all.

FINE: To prepare the food, do you need to purchase the African ingredient from some special markets? Do you think the originality of ingredient matters?

Jeremy: Yes, the originality is super important, specially discover the west African food has to be good quality, well sourced, can't just come from some random market. It may not be very fresh. There is lots of aromatic in Africa dishes, for these we also use some international delivery.

FINE: Will you consider adding more oriental elements into your menu?

Jeremy: All the time, the flavour, not to copy the exact Chinese dish but the rice, textures. But I will make it on my way.

FINE: The visual approach of the presentation is very artistic; how do you achieve the balance of composition and even the use of colours?

Jeremy: I have an idea in my head and I just make it. I didn't study art before, I don't really like intense memory. I reckon my artistic sensibility is something more in the natural aesthetics. I make choice about what I like and go for it. Geometry and balance are important, also natural textures, and the psychology of colours etc. It is fascinating. That's why I put lot of work making sauces, so the colours combine. Giving it visual affect. The more details the clarity it reflects of my ideas itself.

FINE: What was the best restaurant you visited before setting up Ikoyi? favourite food/dish? favourite chef?

Jeremy: A restaurant in Spain called Ibai, a really small restaurant, I really like its lunch, they only do lunch, really hard to get reservation, they know how to cook fish, meat and vegetables perfectly because they have been doing the same thing for 20 years. That's probably my favourite. I also know another place in Milan, called Trippa, I really recommend to your audience. Super delicious and quite traditional food cooked by a Italian chef called Diego Rossi.

I also recommend a chef called Kobe Desramaults, he has a restaurant in Gent in Belgium, called Chambre Séparée, a really cool, special restaurant.

FINE: What does the word FINE means to you? Three words to describe FINE?

Jeremy: Porcelain, Crockery, Details.