Just a few months ago, we were graced with the culinary gift that is IZU. This restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental, Doha is a real show-stopper with its fresh ingredients and incredibly delicious food. And for that, we have Izu Ani to thank.
The London-raised chef started cooking while he was in school before travelling to France to experience nouvelle cuisine first-hand. After a six year stint, he moved on to Spain before making his way to the Middle East. With several successes in the region and with his very first Doha project already making waves, it seems Ani already is a real star. We catch him to find out more.
What inspired your love for cooking?
My mother was a great inspiration to me as a youngster. She often cooked traditional meals for us. I joined a home economics class at school and discovered that I actually like cooking. That is where the spark was ignited.
How difficult was your journey to becoming an internationally recognised chef?
I never aspired to be internationally recognised. I only aspire to be the best I can be. The recognition is just a by-product of all the effort, hard work and time I’ve invested into my career.
You spent several months in Spain working for free to gain experience.
I see it as an exchange of my time in order to gain knowledge and experience. In this case, the exchange that took place was not a monetary exchange, but one of time and effort for knowledge and experience in return, and it was definitely worth it.
What inspired your menu at IZU?
Honest, simple and respectable ingredients. This is my philosophy when I cook. If you’re using high quality ingredients, chances are you probably won’t need many of them.
Which dish are you most proud of at IZU?
All of them because if I wasn’t then I wouldn’t have it on the menu. In saying this, there are always the stars that wink at you such as the marinated prawns, burrata, French toast, veal chops and the gnocchi Sorrentini.
Tell us more about the secret bar at IZU.
The inspiration for the secret bar comes from a speakeasy. It creates this excitement around the concept of socialising within an exclusive space.
How connected are you to your Nigerian roots in the kitchen?
I am still very much connected to my roots. Some of the dishes I make are inspired by traditional meals my mother used to make, which are packed with flavour and spice, which is a big part of Nigerian cuisine.
Have you ever thought of setting up your own Nigerian restaurant?
It’s something I am working on privately. To show respect and pay homage, I have to dig deep into this unique cuisine and give it the prestige it deserves.
What do you like to do when you’re not cooking?
I am an avid cyclist. It helps me to stay focused and also encourages me to dream about new things. I do a lot of soul searching when I cycle. I have deep and honest conversations with myself that often have positive outcomes.
What do you think of food bloggers?
I think it’s very important for people to do what they love to do and do it well. I like objective feedback and for people to have an opinion, but not to be malicious.
A crazy experience you’ve had in the kitchen?
Working alongside Michelin-recognised Jacque Chibois in the South of France. Once, we used the wrong tomatoes, and he brought the tomatoes that we should have used and threw them on the floor. No one was allowed to pick them up, he forced us to walk around them. The lesson we learnt that day was to use ingredients in a timely manner to prevent waste.
Mandarin Oriental, Doha, Msheireb Downtown Doha (4008 8888).