Imoteda Aladekemo: I was bothered by the lack of black faces in the food T.V. world
There is obviously a lack of diversity in the food television industry and Imoteda Aladekemo had to do something about it. She birthed the idea of ”Heels in the Kitchen”, a Nigeria-based cooking show that teaches viewers how to plan, prepare and plate amazing meals, while looking like they just walked off a magazine cover. Heels in the Kitchen provides interactive content to encourage Nigerians to use local products to create nutritious and stunning meals.
Imoteda, who previously worked as a makeup artist and in the television and film industry, is a Cordon Bleu trained chef. She combines her expertise to provide her audience with an unforgettable viewing experience. I caught up with her via email to discuss her Heels in the Kitchen journey so far.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My personal life is sorta boring. I’m a mother, which seems to surprise a lot of people. I have an 8 year old daughter. I come from a pretty large family — 4 kids and too many extended family members to count.
I’m an introverted-extrovert, if that makes sense. I love socializing but I’m happiest in a cold room with a warm duvet and an amazing book.
Professionally, I’m a certified makeup artist and a Cordon Bleu trained Chef. I have over 5 years experience working in the film and television industry both in Nigeria and in Canada. Right now, I am the head chef and hostess of Heels in the Kitchen.
What inspired you to start Heels in the Kitchen?
I watch the food network a lot and was bothered by the lack of black faces in the food television world. I also thought it sad that as prominent a nation as Nigeria is, there was not reflection of our culture and palettes on television.
Why did you decide to name your company Heels in the Kitchen?
The “Heels” bit came from the fact that I didn’t own any flats at the time. I lived in heels, and that included when I was cooking. Even my bathroom slippers were wedges. I thought it would be fun to create a different kind of cooking show with more glam, especially since we, Nigerians, love fashion.
What did you once you decided Heels in the Kitchen was going to become a reality?
The first thing I did was get certified as a chef. I attended Le Cordon Bleu in London to get a background in classical French Cooking. I don’t believe in jumping into things without proper knowledge. I also took some acting and elocution classes to prepare for the camera, and classes in film and television production to ensure that I knew what the technical processes are.
Tell us a bit about the process — from creating recipes and sourcing ingredients to picking the outfits and shooting the show?
Getting the show from concept to TV is a grueling process, especially if you’re a micro-manager, like I am. The recipes are a mix of all the cultures and cuisines I enjoy. I give everything a slight twist to make it more acceptable to the Nigerian palette. Sometimes, it is as simple as adding more pepper. Other times, it’s deconstructing the entire dish and building it up again with Nigerian ingredients.
I have gotten quite familiar with almost all markets in the Ajah-Lekki-Vi axis. When I moved back to Nigeria, I would spend days going from market to market and grocery store to grocery store, searching for where to get the freshest ingredients and the most reliable supply. The aspect of having reliable supply is super important because it’s possible that a store might have lamb chops one week and then not have them for another 8 weeks. On one occasion, I had announced that I would be serving pork chops, only to discover that the pork suppliers hadn’t delivered to store in Lagos for two weeks. Lesson learned! Now, I talk directly to suppliers and give them advance warning.
A major part of the show is the style. I was lucky the first stylist I worked with, ToyoC, understood my vision. ToyoC is great at bringing my look to life. I prefer feminine and classic looks with a bit of an edge. I would have loved the 60s housewife (well style wise at least).
The first step in getting styled is creating mood boards. Sometimes, I just send ToyoC pictures of outfits or pieces that I really like and she does her magic — talks to designers, finds tailors, sometimes takes trips to the market — and then brings me options. Sourcing from designers can be difficult because I’m a bigger girl. But most of the time, they make all the necessary adjustments.
On the more technical side of things, I have a very solid team. The team knows what it is doing. We are creating a show worthy of being on the food network so we do a lot of practice sessions. Also, I work closely with script writers to keep the flow natural. The set is arranged to make you feel you’re hanging out with one of your girlfriends in my house. It’s all very organic.
How have you been able to break through the food/cooking show industry?
Heels in the Kitchen is truly the first show of its kind in Nigeria. We are shooting 96 episodes and intend to be a daily presence in people’s homes. That kind of exposure alone is more than enough to shoot us to the top. Add to that, premium quality production and we are confident we will be the best.
What are some challenges you have faced as a chef and cooking show host, and how have you dealt with them?
Like I mentioned earlier, sourcing for products is difficult because of the lack of reliable supply. But, by building relationships with various suppliers and stores, I have managed to avoid running into such issues.
Another issue is finding reliable people with solid skills and technical knowledge. Because we are going for such high quality production, we can’t settle for the run of the mill Nollywood type production that people are used to. Luckily, Nigeria has a lot of talented people, and we found a team who sees the vision and is excited to help create it.
Entrepreneurship is a difficult and often lonely journey. What keeps you going especially on difficult days? Do you have a support system?
My family. My family is the most amazing, supportive and funny group of people you will ever come across. The times I’ve been broke, everyone chipped in. When delivery drivers don’t show up, my sister and my mom will get into their cars and go deliver. When I’m feeling down, they make me laugh and forget the problem. They are my sounding board for new ideas and are unfailingly honest. I could go on and on about how amazing they are. I wouldn’t have made it a quarter of the way here without them.
Something else that helps on tough days is looking back on where I started. I’ll look at events I first did and cringe at how bad my plating was, but, I’m happy because I can see how much I’ve grown. I think about when Heels in the Kitchen was just a random concept in my head and marvel at the fact that I’m actually creating my own TV show on my own terms.
What excites you about Heels in the Kitchen, right now?
Everything! Honestly, I’m amazed and excited by every single thing. Every new client, every piece of equipment we purchase for the kitchen, every time we pick an outfit to go with an episode — I get so hyper and excited. We’re also getting a fresh inflow of investors and that is very exciting.
Right now, I’m most excited about pitching for SLA. I’m trying not to think too much about it because cause that excitement might turn to nerves. It’s amazing and gratifying to see my work grow to this point.
If you win the SLA competition, what do you plan on doing with your winnings?
Buy a robo coupe food processor, lol! All the money is going to go back into HITK. Startups are money guzzlers. Every time we buy something we need, 4 more things that we MUST have pop up.
Imoteda pitched Heels in the Kitchen at SLA’s Entrepreneur Showcase September 2015. Learn more about developments at Heels in the Kitchen on their website.
Originally published at sheleadsafrica.org on January 29, 2016.