One industry that caters for the multiple needs of people and is very critical to macro-economic development is the hospitality industry. When we talk about the hospitality industry, food (preparation) is a major factor. Then we cannot talk about food preparation in the hospitality industry without discussing those responsible, that is, the chefs who operate in the kitchen. A kitchen chef is defined as somebody that cooks for people in a professional manner and has professional skills in all different segments of food preparation.
It is noteworthy that irrespective of how much one is busy daily and does not want to attend to any visitor, one visitor that one must accord attention willy-nilly is food. The importance of food and chefs must have informed Obasesam Omini Etimita’s decision to spare time and write on the fundamentals of the culinary profession in this book entitled “My Chef”, dedicated to Elder (Mrs.) Comfort Agbonibuan Imoke (nee Imoukhuede) FWCN, a Nigerian.
Etimita, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), is an associate member of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Nigeria (ICPAN). A 1996 graduate of Accountancy from the former Polytechnic, Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria, Etimita also holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Calabar, Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria. He is the auditor, Obudu Ranch Hotel & Resort, Obudu, Cross River State, Nigeria. Etimita has served in external and internal audit capacities.
According to the author, across the length and breadth of Nigeria, diverse in many ways and beautiful in different capacities, there exists a profession with no diversity, that is, the culinary profession. Etimita says surprisingly, he when asked 1000 students the question, “Who is a cook?”, 95 per cent of them answered correctly. He adds that when he asked another question, “Who is a chef?”, only two per cent answered correctly. The author asserts that the same trend manifested in an adult-class assessment. He says this ignorance about a chef has negatively influenced people’s perception of the culinary profession. Etimita adds that parents should henceforth encourage their children to become chefs and ensure availability of basic infrastructure for the culinary practice.
The author reveals that the idea of this book came out of a long-standing concern about the way our society looks at the chef and the culinary profession. He says specifically, Nigerians view this important role with an old understanding of an ordinary cook. A Nigerian society that is very determined to be first in tourism and hospitality business must rejuvenate the appetite of its local chefs to be more committed through societal recognition, advises Etimita. The author adds that we must truly know about the chef and how important his skills are to our daily living.
This book is segmented into eight chapters. Chapter one is interrogatively entitled “Who is a chef?” Here, Etimita submits that rising to the peak of managing the kitchen is a chef. He says interestingly, men dominate in number what is traditionally meant for women.
Etimita educates that a chef is a person who cooks professionally. He adds that in a professional kitchen setting, the term is used only for the person in charge of everyone else in the kitchen, the executive chef. The author says according to wikipedia, the word “Chef”, realised from the Latin word “Caput” is the abbreviated form of the French phrase “Chef de cuisine”, which means the “Chief” or “Head” of a kitchen. Etimita adds that the title “Chef” in the culinary profession originated from the “Haute cuisine” in the 19th century. He discloses that the English use of the word “Chef” has become a term that is sometimes used to mean any professional cook.
Etimita says wikipedia further educates that specialised and hierarchal chef titles are usually found only in fine-dining, upscale restaurants; while kitchen staff members at casual restaurants such as diners are more often called “cook” or “short-order cook”.
Chapter two has the subject matter of the kitchen and history. Here, Etimita illuminates that the chef’s habitat is the domicile, a place where a chef is found or can be easily seen. It is the required input environment for the production of the specified chef’s menu, says the author. Etimita adds that it is called “the kitchen” and often referred to as the “powerhouse”. The author says without the kitchen, the chef may not exist or would never have been such a great captain in the noble profession.
Etimita says each kitchen staff member is delegated to perform a specific function with the head chef supervising. According to him, as against what obtains in the home kitchen or the traditional kitchen, the chef finds him- or herself in a complex, scientific and magnificent structure.
Chapter three is entitled “The unique role of a chef”. Here, Etimita educates that somebody who holds the title of the chef has unique responsibilities. In his words, “An individual who is a chef will be responsible for planning the set menu items and any specials. In addition, the chef is usually responsible for placing food orders and necessary kitchen tool orders in order to enable the preparation of the meals.” The author adds that the chef will also address complaints about his or her kitchen staff and resolve those issues.
Etimita stresses that along with planning the menu, the chef is also responsible for creating the recipes and may or may not allow input from the assistant chefs. He reveals that pursuing a career as a chef can be both challenging and rewarding.
Chapter four focuses on the concept of food as the way to a man’s heart. The author says it is striking to note that everyone considers the services of a chef as fundamental to life. According to Etimita, food contains essential body nutrients. He says the nutrients consist of elements such as carbohydrates, fat, proteins, vitamins, minerals, etc. The author expatiates that these nutrients are ingested to produce energy, stimulate growth and maintain life. The chef romances with ingredients to produce food, says Etimita.
Chapter five examines the concept of balancing diet for digestion. According to the author, balancing one’s diet for easy digestion is the main responsibility of a professional cook. Etimita says this ability is the signature of any chef for a healthy guest diet. The author expatiates that a healthy diet is one that helps maintain or improve health. He adds that a healthy diet is important for prevention of many health problems such as obesity, heart failure, diabetes, cancer, etc.
Etimita says a healthy diet involves consumption of an appropriate amount of all nutrients, and an adequate amount of water. Nutrients can be obtained from different types of food, and there is a wide variety of healthy diets that can be selected from different food types, educates the author. He says an unhealthy diet is a major risk factor as regards health.
The World Health Organisation, according to Etimita, estimates that 2.7 million deaths are attributable to a diet low in fruits and vegetable every year. The author adds that globally, it is estimated that unhealthy diets will cause about 19 per cent of gastrointestinal cancer; 31 per cent of heart diseases and 11 per cent of strokes. Therefore, an unbalanced diet is one of the leading preventable causes of deaths worldwide, submits Etimita.
In chapters six to eight, he analytically X-rays concepts such as the eating etiquette and family values; divine blessing for the chef; and testimonies for lovers of chefs.
As regards mode of presentation, this text gets a pass mark. Etimita handles the subject matter in a brilliant way and amplifies his concepts with authoritative sources to achieve concrete conviction of the part of readers. He uses pictures and graphics on the inside pages for the purpose of visual reinforcement of readers’ understanding especially that a visual communicates better than many words.
The book is also very logical and didactic, because the author is very elaborate in his discussion of the eight chapters. It is noteworthy that the language of this book also enhances its understanding given the simple choice of words. This is expected given that Etimita is an accountant/auditor who knows the importance of simplicity and accuracy to understanding. The author is also able to convey his passion for the culinary profession and stress the need to accord it proper recognition, especially in Nigeria, with his use of the possessive adjective “My” in the title “My Chef”.
Also, the fact that the author decided to write on an area that is outside of his professional boundary underscores the concreteness of his self-development efforts and ability to exploit environmental opportunities because he is an auditor in the hospitality industry.
However, some areas look (conceptually) repetitive. Maybe Etimita deliberates uses this style for emphasis or constant reminder of readers. Also, the layout of the inside pages needs improvement to avoid textual congestion.
On the whole, this book is a compendium of irresistible tips on the culinary profession and healthy living. Specifically, it is a challenge to the National Universities Commission (NUC) in Nigeria to arouse the attention of the Nigerian universities to the need to introduce and promote culinary courses to help develop the hospitality industry in Nigeria through training of adequate skilled manpower. The book is revealing and interesting.