Hello Ladies, weve got some eye candy going on here..and guess what? His name is Chef Eros.
“Everyday is a good day at Cookiejar”. Tolu Erogbogbo aka Chef Eros, owner of The Cookiejar Bakery pronounces with a huge grin as we sit in the confines of Cafe Royale, venue of our interview.
“Sometimes things can get really crazy behind the scenes, but we'll always find a way to make it work” he continues.
As a university undergraduate in England, Chef Eros by his own admission was quite the big saver. So rather than eat out, he'd go out to buy ingredients and then come home to try out different recipes which he'd either seen on television or created on a whim. A far cry from the young boy who grew up with 3 chefs.
“I'm not one of the early bloomers when it comes to cooking. I only started cooking when I went to university. I'm from a large family where there would sometimes be 13-16 people. We had 3 chefs and a lot of people helping out so I didn't get a lot of opportunities to do home chores aside from our Saturday duties which my mum usually insisted we do. I was only in the kitchen when I wanted to tell them exactly how I wanted something or to try my hands out on a recipe. But I knew how to make beans because I liked it so much and I was intrigued by the procedure.”
After winning a chicken cook-out contest in university, Chef Eros started taking his kitchen experiments more seriously.
“I was dared to make chicken amongst my group of guys and my chicken turned out to be the best. I'd already been watching a lot of cooking shows and I knew I wanted it to be juicy from going out to eat. I also have a huge sweet tooth, my food is mostly sweet and spicy or sweet and sour so I put in a mix of sauces – barbeque, soy sauce, ketchup and balanced it out. I'd also just read a recipe on lemon chicken so I just put all those things together and grilled it. It was a revelation of what could come out of cooking.”
The International Business Management graduate who says he still dreams of that chicken to this day revealed that what he found most interesting was people's reaction.
“It was a house party and people had been drinking so there was a lot of begging for the chicken and me hiding it and saying people would have to pay it. Then someone actually offered to pay for the chicken and I sold each piece for about £3 or so. The next day, I went out and bought more chicken and tried out more recipes. I sucked at some and eventually I started finding my balance. So I started bagging the chicken in freezer bags and selling to people when they were having a family function or when they wanted really good chicken”
After a summer stint working as a bar tender in London while school was on break, Chef Eros found that his true passion lay in the belly. He would later come home to set up his restaurant at 21.
“I came back in December for holiday and my mum started talking about setting up a restaurant and I had just done a business plan which was for a home for the elderly but it had everything including the food/hospitality side to it. I did very well in that course so my mum thought why don't you write a business plan for this restaurant. So I brought all my school books and research work and started working on setting up this restaurant for her. But she wanted a Nigerian restaurant and I talked her out of it, after that she just said just do it on your own and I'll support you. So I got really involved and passionate about it and I moved back in January 2008. I bought my restaurant a few weeks after at 21.”
The Birth Of Cookie Jar
The series of events which led to the birth of Cookie Jar is the stuff which would make any Hollywood script writer's day.
After dabbling into real estate and clean energy; things which the Miele brand ambassador is equally passionate about, the year 2012 seemed poised to start on a shaky note for Chef Eros, till a dream he had and the Occupy Nigeria protest would work together to change everything.
“On Christmas day, I was down with a stomach bug and I was spending a lot of time sleeping and the entire time I slept, I was constantly dreaming about cookies! So I just thought I needed a cookie fix because in Uni I used to make cookies which I'd stuff with a lot of chocolate. Then on New Year's eve, after a friend's wedding, I passed out in my car in front of my house because I'd been host at the wedding and did a lot of drinking. I woke panicked 2 hours later thinking I can't spend New Year's eve in my car, I have to get dressed and go out or something. So I went upstairs and at this point it was a few minutes to midnight and I thought let me get on my knees and pray. I did that, then fell asleep and woke up in my living room. But it was twice its size and there were stainless steel tables everywhere. My couch and TV were still there but there were tables and customer service reps everywhere and work was going on. Then I stood up and went to the kitchen and there was a long queue of people saying 'I want to pick up my cookies' outside. All of this was happening and I woke up – again. I was really confused and I thought 'Why am I waking up again'? Because I thought I'd already woken up before. I felt so light headed and passed out again till about 4am.”
After the somewhat bizarre dream, Chef Eros says asides telling his mother about it, he went about his activities like nothing happened. It wasn't until the Occupy Nigeria protest that he would be reminded about the dream.
Mother Knows Best
Following the Occupy Nigeria protest which took place in early 2012, Chef Eros found himself stranded in his apartment with nothing to do.
“I was stuck in my apartment with nothing to do and no shows to watch plus my DSTV was out. I went downstairs to borrow DVDs from Dr Sid but my DVD player refused to work and I was just frustrated. The year hadn't started the way I planned and I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to go ahead with the real estate business so I called my mum and she said why don't you bake some of those your cookies that you've been going on about. I called my girlfriend at the time and we got as many ingredients as we could from the stores that were open. We got her mum's mixer, went back home and made some cookies and they turned out good actually.”
By the time Valentine's Day came around, he decided to bake a fresh batch to see if people would want to buy and he made a whooping N500,000 in one day!
Over 2 years later, Chef Eros who admits that he still enjoys his desserts, has diversified from cookies to cakes and other sweet treats. Along the way, he's also managed to land an endorsement from German high-end domestic appliance manufacturers, Miele.
An unrepentant sweet tooth (he names Dodo as his best food!), Chef Eros describes his food as a “fine and sweet experience that is ultimately me”.
“My food and dessert is layers and layers of me” he continues.
“It starts off with the choice of the flour, to how I store it, the choice of chocolate and how we store it, the colourings and how I present the food. I would never pick onions from the bottom of the pile, I'd choose really fresh pepper. All of this is to give people a truly fine and sweet experience.”
Asked to name his guilty pleasure, unsurprisingly food makes the list.
“Wine and then something I call Chocolate Insanity. Its a dessert on my Cookie Jar menu. Its best stored in the freezer and it can be kept there for weeks. I literarily go and cut out of it all the time and I do it at odd hours in the night."
Once upon a time, the self-taught chef dreamt of being an artiste which is how a discman came to be the first item he ever bought with his own money – money he raised by selling cheese balls! All grown up, he now boasts of a Patek Phillipe watch as his most expensive item.
With a distinctive blush, Chef Eros who admits that he's single names DJ Cuppy as his celebrity crush.
“I like the idea that she calls everyone cup cakes and she's cute” he concludes with broad smile.
Chef Eros may have a thing for girly girls but he's mortally terrified of flying insects.
"I have a phobia for everything that flies. I can just die if I see a flying cockroach!" he exclaims
"I can kill a rat or even a snake but DON'T give me a cockroach. Flying insects make me lose focus."
Passionate, driven and highly creative, Chef Eros who by his own admission has never been to culinary school is poised to take over the food scene one item at a time.
“The dream I have is to one day have Cookie Jar on the high streets in cities around the world. Its going to evolve into a franchise but a franchise that carries through the personality of the executive chef which is cool and quirky”