Deep Blue Soul. This was the inscription on the shirt he wore while I watched as he whipped up meals to post on his website and boy was I glad I could partake in all that yummy goodness!. Chef extraordinaire, Gbubemi Fregene is one human with a bubbling personality and a passion for food and life. Having bagged a diploma in Cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in Paris, there is no stopping this hardworking entrepreneur in his quest to take fine dining experience to a whole new level. In this interview with Winifred Ononikpo, Chef Fregz as he is popularly called takes us down memory lane to where his culinary journey started, sharing his challenging and rewarding moments as well as his aspiration for the coming years.
Please can you tell us about yourself and the Chef Fregz brand?
Chef Fregz: My name is Gbubemi Fregene and Chef Fregz is from my name. When I joined Twitter in 2009, I was gonna put Mr_Fregz as my handle but I said screw it. I came all the way to Paris for culinary school and chef_Fregz its going to be. But it translated to a brand because I was trying to give people a private chef experience as opposed to regular catering. We do catering but we give you food that is more personal to you; not what you’re used to everyday. Something a bit refined that has a fine dining touch to it.
What influenced your decision to become a chef?
Chef Fregz: My decision to become a chef was very simple. I love to eat, I love to cook, I love to eat what I cook. I loved it so much that I realized I could make money out of it so I just thought I’d go for it.
How easy did acceptance from family and potential customers come?
Chef Fregz: Acceptance from my family was not simple because my mom in particular was like how do you go from all this education to “cook”? She didn’t see chef, she saw cook. But then my family thought “let’s watch and see”. Acceptance from clients was very simple. They allowed me be a scape-goat to other people, they gave me a chance here and there to do things and the more I proved myself, they said you know what, you’re legit; so they went for it.
What is the most challenging job you’ve ever gotten from a client and how did you pull through?
Chef Fregz: We’ve done so many things. Most of our work comes with its own unique issues so I can’t really say for sure which one.
What’s the worst experience you’ve had as a chef?
Chef Fregz: Are you kidding me?! First Christmas party we ever did was a failure. We ruined everything. But that was way before I went to culinary school or had an idea of what I was doing.
As a chef what are the challenges you face in business?
Chef Fregz: Everybody wants to buy cheap food. People want quality but nobody ever wants to pay and people just always feel like “is it not just food?” So, story of my life.
How do you handle difficult clients?
Chef Fregz: I used to feel very victimized by difficult clients, and oh my God I will do it for the opportunity. It’s always the rich people that victimize me. People who don’t really have as much money hide their shame and actually pay but I find that with difficult clients, it’s a very simple thing now – I just be as difficult as them. But also, I try to educate them on why it costs a lot. I try to remind them it’s an actual business because sometimes they feel I’m this guy who’s just chilling – I can go to the market on their behalf, then I’ll come back and cook. They don’t know its power that keeps their things cold, they don’t know there’s staff washing what they’re going to eat; they don’t know there are waiters that carry the plates for serving. They forget all these things and they just think “is it not just?” But it’s business, everybody has their peculiarities and you just have to soldier on. And in saying that, we’ve had very good clients, we have clients who understand what we do. Sometimes they still say “please we don’t have money today, what can you do for us?” And we understand and do it for them. Those are the customers we love. Respect us first then ask for a discount later.
How do you handle family or close friends who want you to cater for them free of charge?
Chef Fregz: My family members actually pay. I have one aunty in particular who I tried to cook for free but she was like “no, how will you make money? I’m paying.” Friends don’t ask; they just always wait till when I’m hosting in my house and they come. But obviously some friends have access to me like that so I tell my staff “guys we’re doing this for this person; we’re going”. But not people that know me; ACTUAL FRIENDS who have been there for me.
If you were not a chef, what line of job or business will you be towing?
Chef Fregz: If I wasn’t a chef I will still do something lifestyle oriented because I would have been frustrated with corporate work. I don’t think I would have loved corporate work but thinking about it now I would have loved to do something lifestyle still.
Do you have plans to branch out or is this business for life?
Chef Fregz: No, cooking is the one thing I know how to do. Everything I do will be centered around cooking; never anything too different. Maybe if I make enough money, real estate.
Is cooking ever therapeutic, to let go of negative energy or is it always business for a client?
Chef Fregz: it’s work for me. I don’t cook anymore for fun. It used to be therapeutic and “oh my God I discovered this recipe”. Now, where is the money? I mean, actually now I have bills to pay; you’re interviewing me in my office, you can see the work that still needs to be done. I can’t be doing stuff for free.
Approximately how many cooking gigs have you had, both open and private?
Chef Fregz: I can’t count. By now I’m sure it’s well over 200.
Seeing that you spend most of your time around food – cooking, tasting, sampling etc what do you do to stay fit?
Chef Fregz: I don’t eat; I don’t eat to keep fit. I try my best to watch what I eat, I’m constantly on a diet and I try my best to exercise when I can. Exercise is not a fun thing but with God when I can, I get into it.
Do you share your personal chef secret tips with your staff?
Chef Fregz: They work for me, they know a lot. But there are some things I have to do myself.
Do you patronize Nigerian local markets for your ingredients and recipes?
Chef Fregz: Yeah. I buy from everywhere; our ingredients are from everywhere – the market down the road, the really nice supermarkets on the Island, Ilupeju, Mile 12, Makoko etc. Everybody thinks we buy everything from abroad but it’s really all around us.
Are you married or in a relationship?
Chef Fregz: I’m definitely not married. Relationship? I’m in a relationship with God; (laughs) – with my Jesus!
How will you handle conflicting ideas or methods with your wife when you eventually get married?
Chef Fregz: My wife will cook. Cooking is work for me so it will be nice to have someone cook for me. I actually enjoy eating other people’s food; I only judge other chef’s food.
Which celebrity or world leader will you consider a great privilege to serve or have at your table?
Chef Fregz: Right now I can’t think of a world leader that will rock my boat but celebrity, it will be a real honor to serve Jamie Oliver and Angela Lawson because those were part of the people that got me really started on my journey today.
When do you plan on opening a restaurant?
Chef Fregz: When there is money.
What do you hope to achieve in the next 5 years with the Chef Fregz brand?
Chef Fregz: All I can say is Chef Fregz brand will definitely be bigger than what it is now. Chef Fregz will be closer to more people and people can have more access as well to Chef Fregz. At least there will be 2 restaurants and let’s just also say Chef Fregz should have gone a little global by then. Please note little is relative.