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Jeremy Chan

Jeremy points to Noma chef Rene Redzepi as an example. ‘He started at twenty-six, did a few stages at places like elBulli and The French Laundry, but he wasn’t someone’s sous chef or head chef for ten years. He’s someone with a strong will and a powerful character – he was always destined to do his own thing.’ Jeremy – similarly strong-willed and self-assured – has always had a similar goal. He took everything he could from each restaurant he worked in – analysing the leadership styles of his chefs and the way they worked, as well as their cooking practices – and once he had mined all the data he could, he left in search of more fuel for his insatiable fire. ‘I had no interest in being part of a preordained structure – I've never been happy working for anyone,’ he adds. ‘I wanted to create my own universe.’

Jeremy left Dinner by Heston in 2016 to join forces with Iré Hassan-Odukale – a childhood friend who shared a similar passion for food and had also just left a career in insurance. Iré had plans to open a Nigerian restaurant and the two decided to attack it together, taking West African flavours and ingredients as a starting point from which to plunge into Jeremy’s own research and ideas. ‘There was no cultural attachment to Nigeria, really,’ says Jeremy. ‘It was just about really tasty and original food. We wanted to show how powerful and extensive the applications for West African ingredients could be, whilst being original, delicious, unpretentious, raw and relatable.’

The problem with creating your own vision is that it’s not always well understood; at least, not at first. When Ikoyi opened in the summer of 2017 it was pigeon-holed as a West African restaurant, and many guests who turned up looking forward to Nigerian home cooking were less than pleased when they received Jeremy’s ‘deep thinking on a plate', as he jokingly calls it. Ikoyi suffered their wrath on TripAdvisor, where some questioned why a Chinese-Canadian chef was running the kitchen at a West African restaurant. ‘We had reviews like, ‘this food is an embarrassment to my culture’ or ‘as soon as I smelled the food I felt sick',’ says Jeremy. ‘One person even said ‘the owners need to get rid of this Chinese chef and get a real African cook in the kitchen’.'

Still, the reviews from critics were overwhelmingly positive, and those who came in with open minds discovered something very special. There’s nothing authentic about jollof rice cooked with smoked crab custard, or suya – a traditional West African barbecue dish – marinated in kombu paste, but the balance of flavours and layers of umami are undeniably delicious. As far as Jeremy is concerned, that deliciousness is objective – based on the science of umami. ‘As humans we’re naturally drawn to umami flavours because they trigger mouthwatering reactions,’ he explains, ‘so there’s a logic behind building layers of umami in dishes – it makes food moreish.’

Fas-forward a year, and Jeremy was on stage collecting a Michelin star for Ikoyi, finally cementing his place as one of London’s most exciting young chefs. ‘In a way it wasn’t a surprise,’ says Jeremy. ‘I don’t mean that in an arrogant sense! Deductively, I knew we fulfilled Michelin’s criteria of quality ingredients, consistency and originality – I think we do those three things as well as any restaurant in London.’ The approval of Michelin is one thing – it certainly helps to put bums on seats and makes Ikoyi a profitable business – but Jeremy’s real critique still comes from his family, just as it did at the beginning of his journey. ‘They’ve been a few times,’ he grins. ‘They love it, especially my sister and my mum. Dad is really happy about it too – he has incredibly high standards for everything, so for me, that’s been the best training possible.’

Three things you need to know...

Jeremy regularly organises collaboration dinners with chefs from all over the world, including Hiroyasu Kawate from Florilège in Tokyo, Ben Chapman from Kiln and Quo Vadis chef Jeremy Lee.

He still speaks French, Spanish, English, Portugese, Italian and Chinese fluently, but admits that his Farsi is a bit rusty.

Jeremy was born in the UK, but grew up between Hong Kong, Canada and the USA, picking up a hugely diverse range of culinary influences along the way.