How I cooked my way to success: Meet Mombasa-based Kenyan chef
Guess who owes her cooking experience to her daddy? Maliha Mohammed, a Mombasa-based Kenyan chef, who broke the Guinness World Record for the longest time spent cooking.
Maliha prepared a list of 400 recipes of local and international cuisine. She cooked for 75 hours non-stop setting the new record on August 18.
“My father is a great cook. Growing up, I learned most from him. He taught me kitchen tactics. A little burn or a cut was not something to fuss over. These were steps to becoming the best,” she recalls.
Her father traces his origins from Uganda while her mother has her roots in Tanzania. But Maliha was born and raised in Mombasa. “My maternal grandmother was also a good cook — traditionally, Tanzanians pay attention to making great dishes and as a result, she was conversant with many recipes.
I remember my mum made the best beef pilau in town, whose aroma wafted into the whole neighbourhood rousing the taste buds of many when it was a pilau day,” narrates the 36-year-old.
Coming from a humble background, Maliha’s life has not been all rosy. In fact, after sitting for her General Certificate of Education (GCE) at Jefferay Academy in 2001, she couldn’t further her studies due to lack of finances.
As a firstborn in her family, she had to stay at home and look after her younger siblings. But all this time, she was passionate about cooking. So, she would practise at home, read online recipes and cookbooks and watched cooking programmes on TV.
She got married at 19 because it seemed like the only option out of her state then and got a baby girl soon after. But a year later, she got divorced.
“Being divorced, single motherhood comes with a lot of stigma in my community. “‘What good is all your cooking if you cannot sustain your marriage or keep your husband happy…’” they would say. So, things were tough,” she remembers.
With a child to take care of and without anyone’s support, she had to look for work. Lack of experience in any field posed a challenge. In 2009, Maliha went to Saudi Arabia in search of greener pastures.
Fortunately, she was among those selected to become a chef in the king’s palace. She was to serve the Saudi Arabian Prince Khalid Bin Mishail Al Saudh of Riyadh. She served alongside other chefs from all over the world.
“This was a prestigious learning experience for me. I filled my recipe book with so many cuisines, which I later published in 2017. In the palace, a dish is only cooked once. We cooked new recipes each day. I even got an opportunity to cook my mother’s famous pilau and they loved it,” she says.
Maliha worked in Saudi Arabia for a year before coming back home to her family. She continued cooking and would deliver food to people in offices. She got referrals to cook at various events. In 2012, she got a job as a secretary and a substitute teacher at Alfatiha Secondary School, Mombasa, where she also cooked at all school events.
In 2014, she entered the Royco Fuata Fleva contest and became a semi-finalist. The same year she got a job as a cook at Imani Collectives, a company which deals with interior décor. All this time, she was generating cook videos content on her YouTube channel.
“My life was such a routine. I loved cooking, but it was just not enough. I wanted to be somebody. So, one day I decided to enter the Guiness World Record contest. I saw online applications and I went for it. I felt that I had not achieved anything in this life, and though probably this would be it,” Maliha recalls.
Many discouraged her and even advised her to quit saying there was nothing to win, but she did not listen. “I kept on practising. In fact, on July 19, this year, with the help of my family and friends, I did 54-hour-marathon cooking at home.
I converted my living room into a kitchen. The food I cooked was distributed to two churches, three mosques and two orphanages in Mombasa,” says the mother of two who resides in Bamburi, Kisauni.
Eventually, all her hard work was noticed by Pwani Oil Manufacturers who offered to sponsor her dream to break the world record. However, cooking for 75 hours was not easy. “It was tiring, especially having to stand for all that time.
I had to take 30 minutes every 24 hours,” she says. She had a team of 30 students from the Technical University of Mombasa who helped with preparations. And she had to record everything for compilation and verification from the headquarters in the UK.
Maliha intends to set up a catering school in future. “It is not what you learn in school that makes a person. The streets made me. Resilience made me. The drive. Not settling for less. You have to want more to get more. You have to go after it, and only then will God help you reach your goals. It doesn’t matter if you went to school or not, life has a way of pushing and pulling you to where you need to be,” she adds.