Update: On Monday, May 15, 2023, Hilda Baci successfully cooked for 100 hours (with an hour-long break every 12 hours). Guinness World Records hasn’t officially confirmed it, but Nigerians have already crowned the chef a record-breaker, after surpassing Lata Tondon’s 88+ hour record and setting a new one.
Here’s what Hilda Baci shared with us just a week before she embarked on her viral cook-a-thon:
What goes into preparing to enter the Guinness Book of World Records?
A lot of work and a strong team.
It took me five years to be ready for this attempt. The record I selected — the longest cooking marathon — had just been broken when I reached out to Guinness World Records in 2018, so they said I had to wait a couple of years first.
How does one decide to beat a world record? Walk me through the stages of audacity
I was 21 when I first considered it seriously, but I didn’t have much of a platform. I was working 9-to-5 at a fashion retail company and didn’t have the resources to pull off such a huge project.
But I’m quite ambitious. That’s how I got into acting, presenting cooking TV shows and a talent show — MTN Yello Star 2020 — while working full-time in my early 20s. I go after the biggest possible projects to challenge myself to be the great person I’ve dreamt of becoming.
The Guinness World Record is something we heard and spoke about in awe as kids. It’s just one of those things that get brought up in schools once in a while. I’d always tell myself I’d do something to get myself in the book one day.
As I got serious about my cooking career, I revisited that dream and thought, “Why don’t I try to achieve it this way?”
What was it like hosting your own cooking show on TV?
It was fun and rewarding, but also stressful trying to get guests on board. I had to reach out to and DM celebrities all the time and a lot of them would just not respond. But that helped me build my networking and communication skills.
All my work experience before going full-time into my own business still helps me a lot. I worked almost round the clock cooking for a breakfast company for some years while I worked in TV, and that helps me handle my staff now. I’d wake up at 3 a.m. every day, running around between the two jobs and the market till late at night. It really brought out the hustler in me. I also met my current head of procurement at the breakfast company.
What challenges have you faced in your journey so far?
I’m still not taken seriously in the Nigerian food industry because I’m a young woman and unmarried. Many times, brands and the general audience don’t consider me a serious option because of the way I look. I want people to look beyond my appearance and know I put a lot of effort into my craft and business.
I want to be like Anthony Bourdain, a renowned chef who also established himself as a visionary in other creative fields: architecture, culture, fashion, journalism. I want people to respect me in that way. That’s part of why I want to break this record. At 21 though, it wasn’t God’s time yet because I didn’t have anyone who believed in the idea enough to help me plan it out.
What changed this year?
Over the years, I’d discussed breaking the cooking marathon record with many people, including the owner of the TV station that aired my cooking show on DSTV. But I didn’t find the right person until I talked to Nowe Isibor, one of my former cooking students, in November 2022. And everything just clicked.
She bought into it and brought the external ginger I needed. She became the project coordinator, building the team we now have around it.
Do you just write to Guinness that you’re ready to break a world record?
The Guinness World Records website is open to anyone from any country; there’s even a section for kids. After Nowe got on board, we went back to the website, filled out the form and submitted it for approval. I applied a couple of times before they approved because it’s similar to applying for a job or school admission; acceptance isn’t automatic.
They eventually emailed us the guidelines and set up my dashboard. After my cook-a-thon, I’ll have to send them video evidence. Their team will assess and then update my dashboard to say I’d either broken the record or failed.
To break the current record, you have to cook for four days. What’s the plan for that?
I’ll prepare about 80 recipes, but they’ll be repetitive. I could make Jollof six times in 24 hours. 80% of the recipes will be Nigerian cuisine. I’ll be making many different types of soups, porridge, rice and pasta. It’ll be a public event that people can RSVP to attend and eat as much as they can.
YES. It’s cost a lot just to get all the ingredients. It’s a very expensive dream, but I believe in it. All the food preparation will be a lot of work, but the guidelines allow me to have assistants to prep for me — wash, peel, chop, open seasonings — but not do anything related to the pot and fire.
I feel like running my restaurant hands-on and my Jollof face-off experience of 2021 is great preparation for this new challenge.
Yes. Please, tell me about going against Ghanaian chefs and solidifying our bragging rights as the country with the best Jollof
The face-off was interesting but terrifying because what if I didn’t win? Nigerians would’ve come for me.
So this happened around the time I opened My Food by Hilda. A couple of chefs were nominated by the public for the face-off to decide the best Jollof once and for all. About ten of us with the highest nominations had to submit a plate of Jollof to prove who was worthy to rep Naija. The organisers selected me, and that’s how I got to be the representative.
And what’s the recipe for an international competition-winning jollof? How did you win?
I was intentional about how I prepared each of the ingredients. I made sure my beef stock was rich and well-sauced, I used a lot of fresh tomatoes and peppers and a good tomato paste brand, I let it burn a bit too because that’s part of the spice.
Then I had a lot of sides, from stewed turkey to coleslaw to moimoi to a special green sauce. But I actually didn’t serve the moimoi because I realised it was a Nigerian thing. I didn’t want the blind judges to tell I was the Nigerian rep and let bias win.
Smart move. How has the experience prepared you for this next-level cook-a-thon?
Cooking under pressure, especially for a long time is quite exhausting. I knew I had to spend the last week resting a lot, which is what I did. I’ll need all my strength to cook non-stop for four days. But last last, I enjoy cooking, so I hope I’ll have fun with it.
When and how did you discover this love for cooking?
It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing. The first meal I ever cooked myself was Jollof spaghetti when I was in Primary Four. It was so nice, my mum asked me to make it again. But I goofed. I was seven years old, and it was too much pressure.
Cooking was never my ambition, but it followed me. I’ve always been the best cook in any space. I made the best fried rice in my Home Economics class in senior secondary school. And in university, my schoolmates would pay me to cook, then take the food to their boyfriends, pretending they made it themselves.
Who was your first cooking inspiration?
My mum. She’s always been big on experience when it comes to food. As a child, it was important for her to make sure we enjoyed the food almost too much. She didn’t mind spending all her money on a meal or killing herself in the kitchen. That influences how I prepare food for my clients today. Everything is made with love and that intentionality.
You’re from Akwa Ibom, and women from that part of Nigeria are often expected to be amazing cooks. What do you think of that expectation?
I’ve never had a negative reaction to it. I just know it’s not true. However, because I myself have always been good at it, I feel no pressure when I get that from people.
Did you ever train to cook, or is this entirely raw talent and passion?
I’ve never had formal cooking training. My work is powered by vibes and the Holy Spirit. But I’ll probably train one day, mainly because I teach people. I’ll probably reach a point where I want to learn more so I have more to offer my students.
Is there any meal you hate preparing?
Ekpankukwo. It’s delicious, and I make it well, but it’s a lot of work. With so many different ingredients — seafood, spices, the cocoyam — to prepare in a special way, it’s almost a full day’s work. I never look forward to making it.
If you could eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Easy, rice. I’d eat rice in its different versions every day. But if I had to pick one type, native rice.
You could become the face of Nigerian cuisine globally if your cook-a-thon succeeds. What would you do with that platform and visibility?
I love the sound of that.
I’ll make a conscious effort to propagate Nigerian recipes across the globe. Nigerian food is so good and works with many palates. So I want it to be a staple in international cuisine just like French or Italian.
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