Hilda Baci’s laughter is exquisite. It’s a hot afternoon in Lagos, Nigeria when we get on a call, she softly apologizes for being 20 minutes late and then, with a cheerful voice she echoes “It’s my restaurant’s anniversary.” Her hands raised in excitement, interrupting the brown shades in her eyes. We celebrate for a while, chuckling amidst before she asks how I am and we spend the next few minutes familiarizing.
The 27-year-old chef recently emerged the Guinness World Record Holder for the longest cooking marathon by an individual as announced on 13th June 2023 where sadly, a 100 hour ground-breaking record was reduced to 93 hours, 11 minutes because of her surpassing her five minutes rest time. Within the 4 days event, Baci created more than 55 recipes and served over a 100 meals that reflected Nigeria’s amazing cuisines.
The announcement has been received with joy and had Nigerians praised, celebrated and cheered for her. “It’s God’s grace” Hilda says with a small sigh, adjusting her shades. “In truth, other people have tried to do good records, but nobody has gotten this much.”
Hilda grew up with a riveting familiarity of cuisines and cooking. Her mother, she mentions as her biggest inspiration, was a cook who moved her and her brother from Calabar (the city of her birth) to Abuja (Nigeria’s capital) for greater life purposes. She remembers the soft commotions of cooking utensils every morning that woke her up, the small clings and galianting flip flop noises made by her mother in the kitchen. She had worked to make life better for them, working an office job and a food-vendor job on the side; she would cook and sell to her co-workers, sparing them the stress of leaving the office in pursuit of lunch elsewhere. Though it took Hilda a while to know this, it explained the busy mornings. She reminisced about her mother owning a food kiosk years later, how she would help when she came back from school, serving food to customers and making small talks. “So I would always be like, “Good afternoon, what do you want? We have rice, this and that. I was always really cute.” Baci recalls with a playful sense of humor. But it switches when she mentions the plethora of times her mother’s kiosk was demolished; the countless stress and anxiety that weighed on her mother but she doesn’t hesitate to credit God for the numerous favors that come after such hard times.
It feels like each glimpse of her life prepared her for the future task. For years, she has built a strong will and nurtured excellent determination. But Baci never always believed she would build a food brand, at least her 15-year-old self in home economics practical classes didn’t dream of it; it felt a little overboard in her imagination taking it to be her life’s career. She was construed to the knowledge that she was a woman who loved cooking and enjoyed the camaraderie and grits it afforded her. While at Madonna University studying sociology, she’d take on cooking for students during their graduations or other events. It came with two extras; financial benefits and the luxury of credence that she was indeed good at what she loved.
In her final year in the university, her brother had reached out to her with an excellent business plan, it was a food service business that required clients subscribing for their meals like they would subscribe for their favorite TV networks. It was where the concept “My Food” was birthed. After two years, they halted because of her brother’s multitasking inabilities with a full time job he had gotten and her being a corp member. It was here the desire to be an actor tripped in, alongside going for film and reality TV auditions, she was also invested in auditioning for the TV programmes including “the face of Inside Out with Agatha on Rave TV” which she got in.
However, cooking felt like a natural calling to her. “Every time I met someone, or did something, the fact that I knew how to cook would always shine. While on the show, I used to cook and everybody loved it.” She reminisced. Twice, it was handling the cooking segment of the breakfast show on Morning Wave and the lunch division of the breakfast company called Breakfast King.
In 2019, she took up the role working for linkage assurance on their breakfast team; breaking down her routine she said “I would cook everyday for about 200 people. I will take a shower, I will go with them to the island, serve the food because we’re operating from here. I serve them, then go to the market, vacuum.” All of which she had done while trying to get into top TV shows. She made it into Popcentral TV where she had collaborated with them as a content creator, inviting guests and celebrities on the show.
“MyfoodbyHilda” was established in 2020 alongside her urge to be a content creator, she had started creating things she knew and it stunned her that people were receptive to it. This will go ahead to tell on her brand 3 years later. Baci’s subtle enthusiasm for something different came as a surge of ideas: she sitting down, having her mind spiraling over ideas upon ideas and the thoughts of someone cooking for long just felt convenient to think of. This she recalls was 5 years ago. But to her, the thought of that felt outrageous. On sharing with her brother, their curiosity blossomed and it was really shocking to them that it was even a thing. With more research, came the spirit to write her name in history’s page. “The sand of time” she calls it.
When it grasped her too bad, she decided to opt for this challenge, she consulted everyone she could including a friend who had been a Guinness world record holder and a gym coach who sculpted almost 30kg out of her; despite her hate for the gym. It was what proved her zeal to people close to her. “Everybody knew I hated working out, but it was what made them know I was determined to do this. I remember when I did the 24 hour dry run and I kept saying, ‘I wouldn’t have done this if I was fat.’” She says. When she first told her mother about it
The name “cook-a-thon” that would now become one of the most said Nigerian words in 2023 was inspired by her executive director Nowe.. For Hilda Baci, her mind was her most powerful weapon, it kept her going; the conscious realization that she had to be victorious despite the painful cramps or her body’s inability to handle the pressure or the second and third day that got her pushing so hard. That determination kept her on her feet for a 100 hours, and got thousands of Nigerians to the venue who came cheering and entertaining her day and night, sun or rain for days.
“Days after I was done, I still had people telling me ‘do you realize what you have done or what you have made’, I think it was when I began processing the amount of success and achievements that came with this, even when the vice president called me; I wasn’t thinking of the impact I had created, I was just in my head.” She says.
Hilda Baci’s experiences has been reshaped, especially when she sees the hate comments on social media. To her, she’s still learning to acclimatize herself with being a public figure and as such learn to be insensitive to destructive criticism but the love she mentions has been overwhelming on all platforms, at least it shrouds the bad. All in all, she’s learning to be more authentic and transparent.
Her post cook-a-thon moment has been amazing, it has given her the opportunity to dream bigger. When I ask what’s next for Hilda Baci, she makes a long “hmmmm” and then quickly says “A lot. I have a class coming up and it’s pretty much the biggest one I’ve ever done. I’m working on expanding the restaurant and opening a bigger space. I’m working on the cook-a-thon, but this time people can get to enjoy it. Also working on a documentary.”