Banker-turned-chef with love for Kenyan food
Pamellah Oduor's passion for local cuisine saw her quit her banking job to teach others how to cook.
Harriet James @harriet86jim
At a young age, Pamellah Oduor was always curious, watching her mother Yuanita Okwafi prepare meals. She was a great cook and always loved to entertain people.
“As I grew up, I started cooking and it really warmed my heart to watch people enjoy my meals. I cooked at my siblings’ and friends’ houses when they hosted,” she says.
As she grew older, she imagined a nation where Kenyans from all walks of life, rich or poor, would motivate each other to eat healthy foods.
In 2013, she noticed increasing number of people with lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
She attributed this to the fact that Kenyans stopped cooking and were eating from fast food joints and supermarket delis.
This observation birthed a Facebook group dubbed, Let’s Cook Kenyan Meals, to encourage people to go back to their kitchens.
“The group is a place where people who love cooking would meet, discuss and learn all about it.
It is a fun carefree environment where people try different recipes and advise others on cooking,” she says.
What began as a joke resulted in one of the largest cooking groups in the country with over a million members and it keeps growing.
In 2014, having seen the impact the group had and after getting orders from a few clients to prepare food for them, she quit her banking career and start a catering business called Spice Land.
A huge hit
“People started offering me money for my services so a business was born. I resigned as one of the operations managers at NIC Bank, now NCBA, where I worked for over 10 years,” says Pamellah who now runs an initiative and training platform dubbed #cookmealiving.
“The first meal we ever shared was sausage stew and most people wondered whether they can create a stew out of a sausage. However, many tried it out and now it’s a hit,” she says.
One of the major challenges she faced was winning clients’ trust, especially when she was still working. Secondly, just like in any other social media groups, regulating the members was an issue.
“We try as hard as we can to ensure every post is in line with our objectives. We, sometimes, find con men or fake caterers, products or others who are not genuine and we remove them,” she says.
The number of those who wanted to learn how to cook grew and Pamellah saw an opportunity to earn a living from training people how to cook.
In 2018, Facebook global leaders came looking for her after she applied to be on a programme on people making an impact on social media.
After a rigorous selection process that saw around 115 leaders selected from 46 nations, Pamellah was chosen for the Facebook Community Leadership Programme. It ran for a year and she learnt a lot.
“Each of us had to select a project we would work on during that period and I opted for #cookmealiving,” says Pamellah.
In the project, Pamellah was to train 90 members in the food industry, but many more people wanted to be part of the group.
This birthed another group, Caterers Hub, which has over 20,000 members in various businesses in the food industry.
“My best moments are when people see me as a mentor and from nothing they become chefs or learnt how to cook well.
I have seen people from other parts of the world come and learn how to cook African meals and experience our culture too.
I sometimes train for free and seeing them thrive makes me happy,” she adds. She charges Sh2,000 per session, with training taking place on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Lang’ata.
In future, Pamellah wants more Kenyans to appreciate and learn how to cook their own meals. She also wants to see Kenyan cuisine become international.
“In future, I‘d like to see more Kenyans go back to their kitchens and become fully engaged in learning about their meals.
I also want to create employment for many Kenyans through cooking and matching them with skills and creating business networks and, above all, becoming self-sufficient,” she says.
She has also set up income-generating projects such as soap making and practical catering courses across counties.
She wants her company to become a one-stop shop, where every member is empowered not just in knowledge but financially.