Tiyan Alile is a celebrity chef and restaurateur. The founder of Nigeria’s first culinary school, Tiyan is the pioneer of Nigeria’s growing dining culture as well as providing employment opportunities for youths in the restaurant business.
Having worked as a corporate lawyer for 10 years, Tiyan decided to go into the food industry to hone her skills, so, she went to a culinary school, L’Academie de Cuisine, in the US in 2012. Then, she started her business in Nigeria and soon created a platform that mentors and equips unemployed youths with life-transforming skills.
In her chat with Peace Hyde of Against The Odds, we learnt these five things about building a successful business.
Find a solution to the problem you see
There was such a huge gap between how much we are termed as the biggest cosmopolitan city in West Africa and what we’re getting in dining. There was also an influx of international brands and I said to myself, “how are we going to entertain the world when every time we go out to dine, there’s a huge problem?” and the only way I felt to bridge that gap was to educate people. So, the restaurant itself, Tarragon, is set up as a hands-on dining facility for the students. So, the students who are doing their diploma programme at Culinary Academy learn at Tarragon before they go out and my students are judged to be the best in the industry.
Conquer you fears (challenges)
Every single business is challenging, no matter what it is. A big challenge for me was conquering my fears. By the time I had done my feasibility and I realized I needed a million dollars according to the exchange rate at the time, the question was diving neck-deep or not but I had a wild sense of imagination. I wanted something I would do and it would be wild. So, I took the fear of diving in neck-deep and put it aside. The money took me two years to raise but I raised it. As soon as I raised it, I started conquering every fear that came my way to the point that I no longer have any fears. There is no obstacle that will come that I wouldn’t have a quick solution to.
Mentorship is important in building a successful business
Mentorship is essential. Before I went to culinary school, I almost thought I didn’t need it because my food was delicious. After going, I realized how important it was and I say that to all my students, “educate yourself as much as possible.”
When I got in there (L’Academie de Cuisine), I said to my instructors that I wanted to come back to Nigeria and build a culinary school. So, with that mindset, they certainly opened the doors to me, where ordinarily, they wouldn’t. So, I was getting extra mentorship and guidance towards my journey towards starting a culinary school. Of course, there was the deepening of my culinary knowledge but there was also the mentorship on the business aspect, that actually helps shape and mold all the decisions that I had with my corporate law background. So, I merged the technical and the business skills together and it went a long way.
Be a mentor
When I started, there was no woman to look up to and say, “this woman is doing exactly what I want to do, I’m going to reach out to her and say, this is what I’m trying to do,” plus, unfortunately, if you reach out to that sort of person, you’re seen as a competitor. Most people see me as a competitor in the industry and because that was what the case was, my mentors were not even in Nigeria. I had business mentors but mentors that would say to me, “don’t buy this pot, buy this instead”. That was a big challenge as a woman.
What I find is that most of the student that graduated from Culinary Academy were women. I didn’t understand it was happening until I interviewed a student and she said the reason she’s coming here is because the school is owned by a woman. It’s difficult for women to succeed in business all over the world and they share similar difficulties with men but with men, there is a brotherhood. With women, there is a number of sisterhood. So, I always make an effort to assist women that are in business but unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone here doing what I’m doing to hold my hands or to guide me, so I do not hesitate to do that for any woman that comes my way.
So, what I’ve done is, I’ve set up two platforms; one of them is the Culinary Arts Practitioners Association of Nigeria. That association is for anyone who is in the industry, even the woman who is turning stew by the side of the road. As long as you are in this space, you can become a member of that association and quite often, a number of times a year, they actually come in and I do free mentorship sessions for them and free cooking demonstrations. I take on one-on-one mentorship, so you can come up to me for a free one hour mentorship session, just so I can give back to people what I know.
The second one is Pan African, called the African Young Chefs. Every year, we have a competition for young chefs in Africa. We had one last year and I said to myself, I cannot believe I’m bringing people from South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda to Nigeria. We set up mentorship and networking seminars for them and they do healthy competition. Understanding that, I’m playing globally and affecting people across the continent is beyond my wildest dreams when I started. And for me, it’s all about paying it forward, when you have an opportunity, you must take it and pay it forward to people.
Arm yourself with the power of knowledge
How badly do you want this; how long do you want to do this for and how much are you willing to sacrifice because there is always a sacrifice. Think about how much you can educate and arm yourself with the power that knowledge gives because you need to be knowledgeable about your business. You will learn along the way but you need to arm yourself with the power of knowledge because it governs ignorance regardless of what everybody says. Then, find yourself a mentor that would guide you along the way and then overcome your fears. You are the one who has grown those fears in your mind so, you can actually take them, tear them apart and forge ahead. Anybody can be successful and achieve whatever they want to achieve.
Watch her speak here