Today's interview is with talented chef William Chilila who will be heading the kitchen at West African restaurant Akoko, in Fitzrovia, early 2020.

Tell us about you, what were you like growing up, and what would your
family and friends have described you? 

I’m originally Zambian with South African and Ghanaian Roots.
I was raised in Zambia and spent my childhood there.
My Mother always travelled and would take me along with her, and for a small part of my childhood we lived abroad before she got married and ended up in England.
Growing up I was very much into basketball and fine art and I used to spend most of my time in the art room or at the gym.
My friends would describe me as a go getter, humble, and hard
working.

What has inspired you to become a chef?
Cooking wasn’t always a passion for me, I would say more of a hobby.
I started out as a creative Fine Art Designer but slowly got bored and
didn’t really enjoy what I was doing. It was then I decided to make the transition to cooking.
My grandparents had a huge influence on my cooking.
The excitement of hosting large parties, the laughter, the joy you could give people through food inspired me to become a chef and it continues to.
 

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Put your head down and learn as much as you can and never say it’s
impossible.

Tell us about Akoko – its concept and a sneak peek of the menu.
Founded by a British Nigerian couple, Akoko Restaurant will offer West
African cuisine.
Akoko will be a 50-60 cover restaurant, designed by René Dekker Design. The décor of the space has been crafted to showcase the beauty, minimalism, simplicity and earthiness of clay huts of villages across the
region.
The team also have carefully selected dishes from across West Africa
that they believe are fresh and most importantly delicious. The menu at Akoko restaurant is a tasting menu and an à la carte of small
plates both with wine pairing options. High quality produce from both
West Africa and Britain will be used in combination with West
African spices to create dishes such as Lobster served with Egusi Ijebu
Velouté and Pounded Yam

What dish should we order off the menu?
Everything on the Akoko Menu excites me because every dish tells a
story which celebrates West Africa be it a spice, fruit , country, region.
I love the menu because we are incorporating a lot of traditional Umami
into our cooking and finding new and exciting flavours, like our
Prawn Head Mayonnaise and Shito (a west African smoked, spiced
umami similar to XO sauce) packs serious flavours.
Also the use of fermented locust beans to finish our purees, sauces
which takes them to another level.

Where did you hone your cooking skills?
I started out at Westminster Kingsway in Victoria and slowly sharpened
my skilled and expanded my knowledge of cooking.
This for me was also a life changing time as it also introduced me to this wonderful and magical world of flavours.
After graduating I was blessed to have worked in some of London’s top
restaurants and hotels, The Orrery, The Montagu, The Langham Hotel,
Galvin at Windows just to mention a few. I also have been blessed to have
briefly worked in Michelin star restaurants along side my current job at
the time.

What do you do to stay educated about new trends?
Staying in the know is very vital as chefs are trying to be
unique and create mind blowing dishes. Social media plays a big part
when it comes to trends and you find yourself in constant competition
with each other and you can see what other chefs are cooking around
the world.
Secondly, good old reading is the best as it takes away all the
distractions and you can truly understand the chefs’ philosophy through reading their books.

Describe your cooking style in 10 words.
Every chef is different and has his own style and taste.
If I had to describe my style I would say, crazy, creative, trendy, organic, humble, warm, playful, nostalgic, inviting, fruity.

Which public figure would you like to invite to your kitchen and cook with you?
Wow! So many to pick from, but if I had to pick one off the top of my head I’d say Ben Murphy -Launceston Place, Zoe Adjonyoh – Ghana Kitchen.
I believe these two chefs have done a fantastic job in both their cooking level and high standards they both set.

Your favourite  five minute recipe…
One of my favourite west African snacks of all time has to be plantain.
It’s sweet, fluffy and versatile.

Plantain crisps
1 plantains
Plantain flour 70g
Plain flour 10g (for dusting)
Cornflour 30g
Smoked paprika pinch
Ehuru (African Nutmeg) pinch
Salt & pepper pinch
Sparkling water 80ml
Vegetable 750ml (for frying)
1. Peel and slice your plantain nice and thin.
2. In a ini deep pan or mini fryer add oil and heat to 160 degrees
3. In the meantime, in a large mixing bowl add your dry ingredients and whisk in sparkling water. It will become think and airy while whisking. Set aside the batter ready for frying.
4.Check your oil, once up at the right temperature take a slice of the plantain and dust in the plain flour, removing any excess.
5.Dip it into you batter and then straight into the oil.
6.Fry until golden brown and drain onto a tray with kitchen towel.
7.Season with salt and repeat until all the plantain is cooked
8.Plate as desired and enjoy!

What are you most excited about right now in the food scene?
It’s very exciting times right now as the food scene is stepping away from the suit and tie as you would say and thus inviting more young people to dine out.
It’s amazing to see that more and more chefs are becoming aware of the climate crisis, sustainability and creating beautiful, flavourful food making sure that close to nothing is wasted.

This is definitely making the food scene more lively and trendy as chefs are reverting back tousing the produce they normally throw away and really thinking of new and innovative ways to use it.

 What are you most excited about right now in the food scene?
It’s very exciting times right now as the food scene is stepping away from the suit and tie as you would say and thus inviting more young people to dine out.
Its amazing to see that more and more chefs are becoming aware of the climate crisis, sustainability and creating beautiful, flavourful food making sure that close to nothing is wasted. This is definitely making the food scene more lively and trendy as chefs are reverting back tousing the produce they normally throw away and really thinking of new and innovative ways to use it.

Where would you take your out of town guests for a memorable dinner?
Wow! so many places to pick from but it depends what kind of mood and
setting everyone is in.
To mention a few Sabor has great vibes and I love tapas!
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen supperclubs are cool and trendy and of course they have amazing West African flavours that leaves guest wanting more.
Hide, Ikoyi, Launceston Place – for more sophistication.

Fill in the blank: if I’d weren’t a chef, I’d be….
I mean, nothing will ever separate me from my love of cooking and food.
But if it were to happen I would a painter or a photographer.

What does the future hold for you as a chef and entrepreneur?
I believe the future as a chef is very bright. It is especially exciting to have a platform where i am able to celebrate West Africa and to play to some of my traditional heritages and roots is just a blessing.
As an entrepreneur the future has no limitations the way I see it and people are increasingly becoming more aware of how the environment is being affected. This is being seen in the hospitality industry and we, as a
team at Akoko, aim to have no limitations.