Modupe Fagbohungbe is our definition of an unapologetically-driven entrepreneur. Having quit a career in Law, she set out to pursue her life-long dream of being a chef. She didn’t stop at that, she made sure to be the no. 1 name on our lips. Today, she tells us all about the big bold move and how it has transformed her into a source of inspiration for other women. Enjoy the conversation.
Everyone seems to know Salt Lagos, but not the diminutive powerhouse behind it. Who is Modupe Fagbohungbe, and what does she do?
Lol. That’s very true. People actually don’t think that there is someone behind Salt Lagos, which is a good thing as it shows that the business has a personality of its own. But to answer your question, Modupe Fagbohungbe is a God-lover, a wife, a lawyer turned Le Cordon Bleu trained chef and now the Head chef of Salt Lagos.
Awesome! How did you come about the name “Salt Lagos?” and is it in some way connected to “Debola Lagos?”
Lol! No! Debola Lagos wishes it had something to do with him. Lol. Salt Lagos was literally given to me in my apartment in Paris while studying at Le Cordon Bleu. I was playing around with names and trying to figure out the next step after culinary school. I was praying to God about it and He literally dropped the name Salt in my spirit and He directed me to Matthew 5:13, which says you are the Salt of the earth. As you know, Salt is a generic name and different businesses use the name Salt. I then had to come up with something to make it stand out, so we added the Lagos bit, after much deliberation with family and friends. The Lagos bit came from the fact that the business originated from Lagos, Nigeria.
So tell us, why and how did you decide to make a career out of food?
I have always been passionate about anything food related. So even though I had done my law degree, a master’s degree in international commercial law and even practised for a few years, I didn’t feel like I was fulfilling my purpose and what God had called me to do. I felt very stagnant and bored while practising law and the only thing I wanted to talk about was food. I remember that the only thing I could think about while at the law practice was the next dish I would make for dinner or at the weekend. I would sit at my desk and imagine all sorts of dishes and create them in my head. It was clear that my passion was food and it took a lot of boldness, tears and consulting with some of my great mentors to get to that decision. More importantly, God sent me a word that it was time for the career change and time to go back to school. That word was definitely a confirmation of what I already knew, but the period between receiving the word and the manifestation was a long wait and difficult.
Most chefs attest to being foodies, does that hold true for you, and how do you maintain such a trim figure?
Oh yes! I’m obsessed with good food and it’s very difficult to impress me with food. I always like to try new restaurants anywhere I go. I mean my last major experience was at a restaurant called Frenchie in Covent Garden, London. I’m not joking, the food was sooo good I almost cried. Meeting the chef, was also a big deal for me. I don’t feel trim at all! I’m like everyone else! Struggling to keep the excess weight off. But to be honest, I just watch what I eat and don’t indulge unnecessarily.
You are very clearly a woman of faith, how does your faith impact your life and business?
My faith in God is the biggest thing in my life. That’s the only thing that keeps me going and keeps me sane. I don’t separate my life or my business from God. He’s the centre of everything that I am or that I do. As I always say to people who talk about my cakes or anything we make, I tell them it’s the Holy Spirit that is at work and definitely not me. When it comes to my life or my work, I always have to consult God.
You trained as a Lawyer, but chose to go into business full-time as a chef, why did you make that decision?
Yes, indeed I trained as a lawyer but I realised that my passion, my purpose was not in law. As I mentioned earlier, my love for food was taking over my life and I realised I was cooking and baking for people for free. I found fulfilment in anything food related. It took a lot of faith to quit law, finish culinary school and then come back home to start Salt Lagos full time. But again, when God gives an instruction, you follow without any doubt. Making that decision was based on an instruction from God and it took a lot of boldness.
How did you decide to become an entrepreneur? And how were you able to secure seed funding for your business?
I didn’t decide to become an entrepreneur intentionally. I just wanted to cook and I knew coming back to Nigeria, I didn’t really want to work for anyone. So I can say I became an accidental entrepreneur. Funding and support for the business came from family. I started from my mum’s kitchen and my dad’s dining table. It’s a common saying in my house that everyone works for salt Lagos, including my mum. Everyone finds a way to chip in one way or the other. Even my friends always offer to help. I have a good support system.
You studied at the Cordon Bleu Institute in Paris, why did you do that, and how has that decision impacted your business?
Le Cordon Bleu is like the Harvard of culinary schools in the world. I needed to learn from the best and what other place than Le Cordon Bleu. Apart from that, it had always been a dream of mine since I was in University. I remember always going to the website and choosing the grand diploma course and then just closing the page. I didn’t even know it would become a reality. Studying in Le Cordon Bleu definitely taught me everything about technique and discipline, which helps me in the way I prep my food and also run the business.
What are some of your major milestones and achievements?
Some of the major milestones are having the privilege of speaking at the ‘Do it Afraid’ Conference and the Manifestation. Also being recognised as one of the most inspiring women in Nigeria, in 2017. We’ve also had the opportunity of baking for some of the people I look up to. I mean I was so privileged to have baked the cakes used for Pastor Adeboye’s 75th Birthday as well as the 75 hours praise. That was a real honour.
In the same vein, what are the challenges you’ve faced/are facing, and how do you overcome them?
Some of the challenges we have faced… hmmm… not meeting the customers’ expectations. Sometimes, you have the challenges of finding good staff or the deliveries not going as planned due to traffic or logistics. I mean I think one of my worst experiences which God turned into a blessing, was when a cake collapsed as I dropped it off at a client’s house. Rather than go off on me, she even tried to help salvage the cake! It was a blessing because I’ve had to deal with customers literally cursing me out or being so negative sometimes. It’s very difficult to stay calm or not hurt in those kinds of situations, but I’m learning to let go of the negativity and just take the positive and move on.
Do you have a favourite arm of your business? Food or cakes for example?
I love baking and coming up with new ideas for desserts even though secretly my greatest passion is cooking. I feel like cooking comes very easily to me.
Let’s talk about your cakes for a minute. We personally are HUGE fans. Do you have a secret recipe for them that makes them so decadent and sinful?
Lol!!! Thank you! I know I will sound extra “spiri” but the truth is that I don’t. My only secret is the Holy Spirit. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s the truth. When I remove Him, I begin to mess up. Lol.
When you are not busy cooking up a storm or baking, what does your daily routine entail?
My life actually revolves around work and family. So even if I’m not cooking or baking, I’m most likely doing something work related or with family. My daily routine is waking up, praying, going to work and coming back home. I do that Monday to Saturday and sometimes Sundays. It’s sad but I don’t have a social life.
At what point did you decide you were making a career out of food?
I made that decision, in 2010, after I started getting frustrated with Law.
Words of advice for upcoming females looking to follow your footsteps?
Don’t give up and don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t do it or you are not good enough. Even if you fail, keep trying until you succeed. Because you fail at something, doesn’t make you a failure. It’s just an experience and your perspective about it is what matters, you can choose to see it as a learning curve. Also, don’t be limited in your thinking and remember you can start with the little you have you don’t need a huge capital before you can follow your dreams or passion. What can you do with what you have in your hand? Before you know it, the little you have will become a lot.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to [email protected] and we just might feature her.