Michael Elegbedé ’13, executive chef and owner of ÌTÀN in Lagos, grew up in and around kitchens in his native country of Nigeria. His mother and grandmother were cooks and restaurateurs, so he learned traditional Nigerian recipes at an early age. When the family moved to America, Michael, age 13, helped his mother at her new restaurant. Even though Michael went on to study biology at The University of Illinois at Chicago, his passion for cooking couldn’t be denied. Michael trained at Alliance Bakery in Chicago learning the basics of baking and pastry before enrolling at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.
“My decision to pursue culinary arts came as a result of my trying to answer the big questions about the true meaning of my life and existence. For me, that meant doing what I love and sharing it with my world. I love cooking, so I pursued culinary art,” Michael says. “I chose to pursue my culinary education at the CIA because of the vast array of talented and knowledgeable chef-instructors and world-class facilities there. It uses a community approach towards education. Students are given opportunities to be active in many of the farms that surround the campus, allowing an extensive understanding and appreciation for food and the terroir. This holistic approach to cooking is what made the college my top choice.”
At the CIA, Michael was introduced to and tasted many food items he had never seen before. “Coming from a background where most of what I knew about food revolved around traditional Nigerian cooking, the CIA equipped me with important culinary fundamentals and a broader understanding of cuisines from other parts of the world,” he says. After graduation, Michael worked as chef de partie at Eleven Madison Park and NoMad restaurants, both in New York City, before dedicating himself to his ultimate goal—opening a restaurant in Lagos, Nigeria.
“ÌTÀN, which means “story” in Yórùbá—one of the main dialects in Nigeria, is a restaurant that endeavors to tell the story of Nigerian cuisine. “I incorporate a personal touch and locally sourced ingredients with both ancient and modern culinary methods,” Michael explains. “ÌTÀN is a fine-dining establishment that will bring Nigerian cuisine as its never been seen before to the cultural center of Lagos.”
Michael’s journey back to his homeland has been three years in the making and is now coming to fruition. “I believe food and wine should be full of life. Life is a journey bursting with adventures, excitement, and mystery,” he says. “Success in any career is built on a good education. For serious students, the CIA offers the foundation to attain any professional goal in the culinary arts. Immerse yourself and take advantage of everything the CIA has to offer. My education has brought me back to where I want to be and serving the food I love.”