The subject of this week’s What She Said is Thelma Egbe, a 28-year-old woman who loves cooking. She talks about growing up in a family where the men and women cooked, growing a food blogging and catering business, and how adulting almost made her stop.
What was your childhood like?
I spent a part of my childhood in Calabar before leaving for the UK. Calabar is known for good meals — if you know you know. My parents are both great cooks so it was easy to fall in love with cooking. I lived around a lot of family so I watched my uncles cook as well. It was when I joined Twitter that I found out that Nigerian fathers didn’t cook.
Around when I turned 12, I started assisting my aunt in the kitchen. I hated it at first, but I learnt how to prepare dishes during that time. I became fascinated with how you could put three or four ingredients together and come up with something really tasty. Sometimes when I was cooking, I would pretend that I was on the Maggi cooking show, which was one of my favourite shows.
Do you remember the first meal you made on your own?
It was palm oil rice and I got paid for it. I was 13.
How did that happen?
My godmother is a big caterer and she noticed how much I loved cooking. One day, she asked me to make her native rice. After she ate it, she gave me money as a well-done gift. I don’t remember how much it was, but it was big money at that age.
What happened next?
Cooking became more exciting when my family and I moved to England. My parents were happy to invest in ingredients for me to learn more. I looked up culinary schools, saw how expensive they were and I backed out.
When I turned 16, I was sure I wanted to do something food-related. During this time, we were doing a course at school that required us to use Blogger. I thought food blogging would be a good way to document my cooking journey but I was worried that no one would read my work.
I eventually started in 2015 because my friends and family thought I would be great at it. When I started, it was fun to me and for a while, it was the only thing that got me excited.
Did you make money from it?
For my mum’s 50th birthday, I cooked up a storm. I made jollof rice, fried rice, barbeque chicken, white rice with stew, and small chops for over 50 people. She was so happy she cried — it was a surprise. The guests at the party loved the food. Some of them even asked for take away packs. That felt like the sign I needed to go into catering.
After that, I started catering and selling to university students, but I had to stop because it was interfering with school and work as well. I decided to focus more on blogging. I also worked on my social media pages to look like a business page so I could work with other brands.
Did that work out?
2016 was a major year for me because I got a lot of recipes out but focusing on blogging wasn’t easy. I found it difficult and time-consuming. Cooking is easy but documenting the process is the enemy.
What are some of the challenges you experienced while documenting your process?
My family had to eat late because I had to write down everything I did or used along the way and photograph the process as I went. Before I put out a recipe, I had to make the meal at least three times to make sure the recipe I wrote was accurate. This cost a lot of money.
In between 2018 and 2019, I reduced the frequency with which I put out content. I barely wrote recipes during that time.
2018 was when I started adulting properly and it was overwhelming. I stopped living with my parents, so I didn’t always have extra money to spend. Also, I didn’t have as much access to kitchen gadgets that were a huge part of my process. My job was exhausting as well.
In 2019 I got pregnant and I was always tired from work, so my weekends were specifically for resting.
How did you feel about being away from food blogging?
I felt like I was letting myself down because I had invested in it. One of my new year resolutions last year was to work my way back to consistent content. I planned to write more recipes and create more video content on social media.
How is that going so far?
It’s been good. I think the pandemic helped because more people had time and wanted to learn how to cook more. My social media engagement numbers are climbing. People send messages thanking me for the recipes and requesting more.
What is being a mum while blogging about food like?
At first, I thought it would affect me because motherhood is a lot, but my partner made everything a breeze. He would carry my son away from me so I have enough time and space to do my work. When I am done, I join them.
That’s amazing. I’m curious about what it feels like being a woman that loves to cook and somewhat conforming to what society expects of women.
People love to eat and I love to feed them. But I hate it when men send me weird messages wishing their women could cook like me. Some men joke about marrying me because of food. Most of the comments annoy me because, in a bid to compliment me, they are insulting other women who don’t care about cooking.
What are your future plans?
I am currently in the process of going back to selling food. I am also collaborating with a brand. This time, I am taking my time to plan well so everything runs smoothly.