Ekiti State-born Proprietress of Naira Restaurant, along Accra Street, Wuse Zone 5, Abuja, Hon. (Mrs.) Olubunmi Adebiyi discusses matters of safe food with Remi Adebayo.
Why did you choose food as your favourite business with all your educational and professional pedigrees?
Why would you entrust the most important thing any human being can do; one of the most viable activities for daily living, most essential to human existence – eating proper meal, in the hand of half-baked person or complete illiterate? Someone like me is in this industry out of the passion for eating good meal, for having professional values in what you eat and taking it out of the hands of the unhealthy people.
A lot of restaurants that you visit, paying high premium cook with substandard ingredients. You see a lot of restaurants that hire illiterates to cook are mostly into it because of money and the profit margin they want to make. For people like me, it’s the passion. I cannot cook what I cannot eat myself or feed my family with. I start from the cooking oil that we use; as you know there are lots of fake oil in the market, so much fake rice; search through the internet and see how these Chinese and Asians package rubbish and poisonous food into the Nigerian market. And that’s what you see people buy and that’s what they feed people with in various restaurants.
Now, I would only buy premium oil which is way expensive to cook my food because I eat in my restaurant on daily basis, I feed my children from there and also my loved ones. So, I will only cook what I can eat; from the kind of salt that we use to premium vegetable like tomatoes, pepper, onions and others. It is very essential that you eat from a place where you can trust because at the end of the day, you don’t know if you’re eating very terrible and fake seasonings that are cheap but very high in chemical concentrations and damaging to the human cells. So a lot of these people don’t care and use them as long as the food taste is okay. And we don’t have a system where the Ministry of Health for instance specifies or ask you to classify what you give to the people.
In other places around the world, if you walk into a store or restaurant, it is mandatory that your sodium level is made available to consumers; the type of oil, the saturated and unsaturated fat in your meal is exposed to them because the public have the right to know. But in Nigeria nobody cares or ask about the nutritional value of the food they’re being served, people just walk into places and eat. By and large, Nigerians are getting sick daily of all kinds of diseases and illnesses from various kind of food that we put into our system. It is important for me to put this message out for you listening to really study where you eat and make sure you’re getting the best.
Since you are passionate about Nigerians eating healthy and faulting the regulators for not doing much; have you at any time made a move to bring this to their attention?
(Laughs) Maybe now that you referred to it, I might take a step but I really believe that should be the responsibility of someone in the health sector. I don’t know how somebody like me in the private sector make any difference because I really believe it’s the duty and responsibility of the Minister in charge of health or organisations like NAFDAC who have the structure to go about it. It is within their jurisdiction, they don’t have to wait for anybody to tell them. As an individual, I don’t know how to handle it. What we are doing now is to say it out loud to Nigerians, not that they are not aware of this fact. I’m not saying anything new, but once you hear something persistently, it sinks in your subconsciousness, you begin to think of it to become part of you then you begin to demand for answers. So, I want people to think about these things and begin to demand from the National Assembly to do the right thing; promoting food industry, to get their acts together and to give licenses only to restaurants on merit not just people jumping into businesses because of money without anyone coming around to regulate what you do or ask questions thereby putting the public at risks.
How will the unsuspecting public know the best restaurant where hygienic meals are served from others that pose threats to their health?
I will say the difference is by watching what you eat. I believe we have a lot of information out there, especially on the internet, it is only lazy people that may feign ignorance of that today. We see all sort of videos, watch online how steroids is injected into fish, meat, poultry and all sorts of things. These are all out there for curious people to see and when you start seeing things like this, you have to start giving them serious considerations. So the best way is to look out for restaurants that cook fresh meals on daily basis. What a lot of big restaurants do is to cook in large quantities, stock their refrigerators and freezers for weeks or months and until they exhaust their supply they wouldn’t prepare anything fresh.
If you’re particular about what you eat you need to start asking questions, start looking out for places where fresh meals are cooked, where the chicken served is locally bred, having the Nigerian content; where the fish is freshly purchased – this is essential for somebody who craves to eat well and who would not want the food they inject make them fall sick eventually. When we’re aware and able to do that, you find out that places where they sell substandard food will fade out and run out of business. Like here, I like it that we pound the yam and our customers are served direct from the mortar without any preservatives or seasoning.
Does that mean that Naira Restaurant does not serve jollof, fried rice and all these delicacies because of preservatives?
No. You know if you’re in this business, you should understand your customer base in view of statistics, you know how many people visit your place daily, then on that note, you prepare food for daily consumption.
Like how many meals do you have on your menu?
We have many; almost all Nigerian meals. For soup, we have the likes of banga, afang, oha, vegetable, egusi, fisherman soups and many local ones. We also do jollof, fried and coconut rice as well as small chops. Like I said earlier, we try to maintain the average number of people that visit us, we choose about three or four to serve on a particular day so we don’t have excess overlapping to the next day and on occasion when we do have excess, the staff would eat them, we don’t serve food retained from the previous day. We cook freshly because we have in-house chefs who prepare freshly everyday.
With these, people would believe you charge so much for these meals…
No, we are really cost effective; it’s reasonable, and you only have to do that, seeing that times are hard, there is economic recession in the country so, you have to be aware. As much as food items are expensive, there are ways you go to augment what you do in terms of the pricing and what we do here is that we buy directly from farmers or at local market where things are quite reasonable than buying from markets within the metropolis, that way, we save costs on a lost of things. Personally, I have contacts in some of these local markets where I pay them to bring items like tomatoes, pepper and some varieties that we use every two days interval. These are what we do to serve our customers reasonable food at reasonable price and they’re very happy about that; as usual, a plate of food here is less than a thousand naira which is very reasonable compared with most places in the city.
What is the scope of your operation, especially giving thoughts to busy people in their offices?
We do office and home delivery services if we have the right quantity; we deliver to Maitama, Garki and within Wuse here generally, we have the means of doing that. Delivery service is not by any means a problem.
Do you also offer outdoor catering services?
Oh yes, definitely. We do outdoor catering for all occasion; naming, house warming wedding and other social functions. We have done very impressive work since we started, we have worked at the Abuja International Conference Centre a couple of times and have worked at several places within the city for business seminars, wedding and the antecedents are there for anybody who wants to know.