We are so excited to present our first interview in the Chopstreets Chat Series. We have been working on this for a while now and we are so excited to finally go live with it. The Chopstreets Chat will be a monthly series that will feature interviews with founders, CEOs, Startups, small business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals in the African-Caribbean food and drinks industry. Our first guest is Teslim Abass, popularly known as Chef Dudu, a Business Analyst, Private Chef and Food Consultant. I met up with Chef Dudu some months back and we had a hearty chat about his passion for food, 9-5, business and finding a balance; of course, dinner was not left out. He is indeed an unorthodox food explorer.
Can you tell us what your brand represents, why the name, ‘Chef Dudu’ and how you came into the world of cooking ?
I am Teslim Abass and Chef Dudu is the alter ego of Teslim Abass. Chef Dudu is a name that came up about 2 – 3 years ago, however, when I was born the nurses called me ‘Dudu’ because I was really black and somehow the name ‘Dudu’ has just stayed on. I love simplicity, it is the foundation of Chef Dudu and one of my core values. My love for food has been for a while but it grew when I finished my Masters programme. I enjoyed cooking and would invite my friends over for dinner and that was basically how it all started. Then I started taking pictures of my food because I loved what I was doing. I joined twitter and started the food corner where I tweeted anything I made as I would challenge myself to make something nice every Sunday. I don’t like plain food. I love colours. I believe in good presentation.
Instagram came along and I found it to be more visual than twitter. I subsequently joined instagram and followed 9jafoodie, Afrolems and 1qfoodplatter and was amazed at what they were doing. Then I started posting pictures everyday and people started following me; I had like 5 followers, 10, 20 and it just kept growing. When I clocked 100 followers, a friend suggested that I change my then instagram handle which was T.Money Black to something that resonates with the brand I was trying to project and she suggested ‘Chef Dudu’.
At what point did you decide to turn your passion into a business?
I have been cooking for a long time but the Chef Dudu brand was officially launched in late 2013. At that point, the response from my instagram followers was very good and I thought I might as well continue and consider it as a plan B. There is something I like about Nigerians, in a way they try to support and encourage you, either because they like you, they think what you are doing is really cool or they just love what you do. I used to have a blog called Dudu Bistro where I shared my recipes and also wrote for some online media outfits using the same name. People began to ask for the location of Dudu Bistro which did not exist although that is in the works now. I love my 9-5 and it pays the bills and supports Chef Dudu. At the moment, I only offer private chef services and food consulting.
Asides cooking, what else do you do?
I am a Business Analyst (BA) with a focus on mobile payments, retail and future media. I have been a BA for quite sometime and before that I was an IT Consultant. I have been working within the IT space for quite sometime and my core area is product development and mobile payment applications design. I have worked on some very interesting projects such as the BBC iPlayer, a payment project for an off-shore start-up in Nigeria which is similar to PayPal as well as developed an in-store retail mobile application to be rolled out in 260 B&Q stores.
How do you juggle your 9-5 with Chef Dudu?
I love what I do. I love my 9-5 and I love cooking. I believe if you love something you will always find the time to do it or create time for it. Sometimes I come home really tired, but I still try to cook something and take great pictures because I enjoy it. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night to have a yoghurt and I still find a way to style it before taking a picture. You have to be dedicated, committed and passionate. Cooking is therapeutic to me; I enjoy the process, aroma and everything that comes along with it. Coming up with new recipes and cooking more with less. Being able to open my fridge or cupboard and creating a meal from the ingredients available. The inspiration comes from within and I want people to understand that you don’t have to go out of your way to cook good food.
What are the obstacles you have encountered in your journey and how did you overcome them?
I believe life is not a bed of roses and there will always be certain things you will face in your journey to success. When you have this mentality, you won’t allow issues stop you. I don’t see them as obstacles, rather I see them as stepping stones to where I need to get to. I am a very positive person.
How did your parents react when you told them about your food business?
When I told my mum that I loved and enjoyed cooking and would like to turn it into a business, she said ‘ahh, after doing Masters! Cooking!’ That was her initial reaction. She didn’t get it at the time but now she understands and supports me. When my dad came to visit, I showed him my food pictures and told him I was considering cooking as a part-time business, surprisingly he said, that’s good! So far, they have been supportive and happy with what I am doing.
Where do you see the Chef Dudu brand a few years from now?
Some people do not understand my concept so I have a web series project I am working on which will give people more insight into my cooking style and why I cook the way I do. I would love to have the Dudu Bistro in the future. I love to serve people and having the bistro will give me the opportunity to serve and connect with my customers while they enjoy my food. At the moment I am focused on my food consultancy, looking to write my own cook book, collaborate with organisations and get endorsements.
Who inspires you?
Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Barefoot Contessa.
What is your advice for those working a 9-5 job and looking to start a business on the side?
The first thing is to understand your strength and capabilities. You can actually manage 2 passions at the same time. Like me, I love being a product developer and at the same time, I still love to cook; I enjoy both of them and sometimes you might a find a way to fuse both together. Love your 9-5 as it pays the bills until you can successfully run your business with proceeds from the business itself. Budding entrepreneurs need to remember that you need a source of income.
When I cook, I try to be agile. Agile is a term that was coined by some top guys in software development and they thought there needs to be a way to develop products where you focus on the customers and you build in increments and deliver value. Things can always change, meaning you don’t have to plan everything and execute at the same time. You identify the MVP (minimum viable product), that is, the minimum value you need to do that adds value within the scope. For me this translates to cooking more with less. I asked you what you wanted to have for dinner rather than assuming what I think you would like. I identified the ingredients I needed to cook that is available. As the tomato sauce was simmering, I started cooking the salmon, the Tagliatelle and other ingredients while making and changes as the coking progressed. Some people cook using the Waterfall approach. They just follow one way and never take on feedback, change the process or make amendments.
What advice will you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail forward; when you fail, understand why you failed and learn from your mistakes. Develop your skills. Help yourself and help others around you.
It was a pleasure chatting with you and thanks for cooking us a sumptuous meal.
Connect with Chef Dudu on:
Thanks for feeding me Chef!