Meet the man behind the $1,000 Valentine couples dinner | Dailytrust

Meet the man behind the $1,000 Valentine couples dinner

Abiola Akanji
Abiola Akanji

Abiola Akanji, aka Chef Stone, is the CEO of Burgundy Restaurant and also founder of Red Dish Chronicles, a culinary school. Akanji, who has a degree in Business Management from the London Metropolitan University set the media space agog with his proposed unveiling of Burgundy Restaurant with $1,000 couples dinner for Valentine Day. In this interview with Daily Trust Saturday, Chef Stone talks about his plans of creating a true pan African restaurant, the $1,000 Valentine couples dinner and the future of the restaurant business, among others. 

Tell us about yourself and the Burgundy Restaurant

I am Abiola Akanji, Chef Stone and CEO of Burgundy Restaurant. I’m an entrepreneur and a chef. I’ve been a chef for 17 years now. I own Red Dish Chronicles, a culinary school.

Tell us more about the $1,000 Valentine couples dinner 

The $1,000 dinner was an interesting one because when I thought about doing a dinner for the yet-to-be open restaurant, I said I would want to do something no one has ever done before. And it wasn’t even about the price because in the end, we spent more money to put the dinner together than we actually made. 

For me, it was about doing something that has never been done before; it was about doing a dinner that could stand with any dinner in the world. I wanted to do something on that level.

So, when I told my team, everybody was like…wow… why a $1,000 dinner? And I said I wanted it to be very intimate, very exclusive for a small number of people, about ten couples only. Nothing more than that; let those ten couples have the time of their lives. That’s what it was all about.

How did you feel with the reactions on social media?

Well, looking at those comments, I just laughed because in every country, in every market, there are different levels of product – the high end, the luxury end and the lower end. So, everybody has a market at the end of the day. 

The same way I’m serving dinner here that is N400,000 is the same way I have a truck at the back that you can get dinner for N10,000. So, there is a level for everything.

But, for me and for this particular dinner, I wanted it to be world class and it is meant to go higher than what I’ve ever done before. And it wasn’t just about the dinner itself, it was about the experience. It was about the gifting; our gift package alone was over half of the price they paid. But you know, at the end of the day, a lot of people end up spending way more than this on a bottle of champagne in the club over whatever you want to call it. They do spend that much money.

What was patronage like considering the current economic hardship in the country?

Before the drama on social media, we had only sold two tickets. Immediately the drama started, the PR went up and everybody started hearing about it. Somehow, our customers found us. So, it goes to show that there is a market for this. There are people who want luxury and exclusive products.

The patronage was amazing. We had an ambassador here yesterday; we also had an ex-governor here yesterday and they had nothing but good things to say. In one of the comments, someone mentioned a country and said they don’t spend a thousand dollars for dinner. And the ambassador for that country was here yesterday and he spent a thousand dollars. We did a twelve course dinner –  twelve different dishes came for every single person and every dish had nothing but good stuff. 

So, what gives me joy at the end of the day is my customers and not the people online asking why would they spend that much. This man said that for this kind of dinner, you’d have to travel to London or America to be able to experience the dinner but he came here yesterday in Abuja and experienced fine dining.

What made the Valentine Day package special and why did it cost $1,000?

If you are privileged to be well travelled and ever visited fine dining establishments, you will understand that their level of food and wine is very different. It is not your regular food. Like I said, for every market, there’s the high and low end. For example, if you think an iPhone is too expensive, then there are the low-end phones.

So, for me, it’s about one thing – the experience; an experience that is inclusive of all you want. There’s a gifting at the end; pictures, roses, twelve course dinner with wine pairing. For each course, there is a different wine paired with it. So, again, at the end of the day, you find out that you got more than you paid for. 

So, the event on that Valentines Day; was it a PR stunt or promo sort of thing? 

It wasn’t a PR stunt because the PR that came with it was not planned. For me, it was to showcase what Nigeria has to offer now. There’s something called the Michelin Star which is a kind of guide. It’s a rating of the best restaurants in the world. You can get three stars, two stars or one star. If you are one star on the list of Michelin restaurants, then you’re a very good restaurant. If you’re a three-star restaurant in Michelin Stars you’re one of the best. 

How many restaurants in Nigeria are in the Michelin star? None. And how many in West Africa are in the Michelin star? None. I think South Africa has two and that is it for Africa. So, if we’re going to put ourself on the map in terms of culinary and truly fine dining, then someone has to make the bold move. We cannot keep doing the same thing and all selling the same things and expect to get on the map.

Can you tell us the demographics of customers you had on that day? 

We had customers from all walks of life. Like I said earlier, we had an ambassador here yesterday and an ex-governor which is a privilege to host. Apart from that, I think everybody else were people who wanted to have a good time or wanted to do something for their other half. So, we had a good mix of people – young, old, and I think it was an excellent turnout.

What specific dishes did you serve on the day? 

It was a twelve-course meal and what we serve in the Burgundy is Pan African, which means that every single ingredient used to create these dishes was sourced from the African soil. We served, for example, a flatbread called breaks that was actually made in Tunisia, and then brought here to be part of that dish. For the last two or three years, I have been privileged to visit almost all the African countries and my journeys to these countries were to learn the way they do their local dishes, how they do it in the streets, the ingredients they use and how they use it. 

Everybody wants to go to America and the UK and so on. But for me, what about Africa? Let’s exchange; so, I’ll teach you something and you will also teach me something. 

My journeys were to bring all of that back to Nigeria to be able to create what we called the Burgundy, which is going to be the first true Pan African restaurant. Everything we created yesterday was basically from passion, from love of the ingredients. There was one dish that was made from an orange for the desserts and basically, we used every part of the orange; from the puree to the juice, the flesh and even the seed. Everything was used to create this one dish. 

With the country’s economic condition, do you think this project is sustainable? 

I think the misconception people have is that because we charged $1000 last night for the dinner, that would be the kind of price point you’re going to dine with when the restaurant fully opens. 

Yesterday was just to showcase what is possible but I believe that the menu will be a lot more affordable; the actual menu for the restaurants. So, it’s not going to be $1000 but again it’s going to be an exclusive restaurant. It’s dinner service only and obviously going to be by reservation.   

Apart from being a chef, what other things do you do?

I’m into photography and videography and I’m an avid traveller. I also try to learn whatever I can, enough to be able to teach others. So, I think that’s my superpower.

Who are your target audience? 

My target audience are people that really appreciate good food, people who want to try something different; who are tired of the same old thing we see everywhere. Again, the price point would be much less, more affordable for people but again it’s going to be premium. It’s not the kind of restaurant you go to every day. People will come here for special occasions. 

Everybody is selling ambience and decorations these days. For me, I want people to focus on the food. In Abuja and Lagos, there are lots of restaurants that have good ambiance and all that but then the food is not that great. It doesn’t make sense. The food has to be the focus. 

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