Meet Amanda Gicharu -Kemoli winner of the Royco Fuata Flava cooking competition, she tells us more about her love affair of cooking.
- Amanda, we are glad to have you in this month’s issue of AfroElle. Let’s start from the beginning, one of the things you mention in the final episode of Royco Fuata Flava is that you’ve had a passion for cooking for so long, where did your passion for food come from and when did you realize that cooking was something you truly enjoyed?
I found my passion for cooking at a very young age. At 4, I remember putting a stool next to the stove so stand on and watch the action in the kitchen. Even then I started making some simple baked treats and grew into more complex recipes as I got older. My mother can tell you how I would beg her for ingredients for my experiments, sometimes using my small allowance to buy them myself. While she doesn’t enjoy cooking, her mother was a very established chef having attended culinary school in the UK. My grandmother went on to win multiple awards for her baking and entertained many high-ranking dignitaries including President Moi! My affinity for food is definitely in my blood. I love cooking because it allows me to show my love, share my passion and create something out of nothing! Its my way of adding flavour to my life and being salt to this world!
- Having left your corporate job to pursue your culinary passions, what AHA moment led to this decision and as an entrepreneur, what lessons did you learn from making that move?
I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to work at the largest INGO in the world – the United Nations and arguably the biggest tech company – Google. Through my experience, I have had the best of both worlds – NGO and corporate, which has been an amazing journey. My last stint at employment was extremely entrepreneurial and it taught me about how far I could stretch myself. With all the travel and long hours, I made a lot of sacrifices, often relinquishing time I would have given to my cooking. Over time, I felt I needed something more challenging where I could combine my business acumen with my passion for cooking. Once the thought popped into my head, it kept growing until I couldn’t ignore it any more. Many people thought I was crazy to resign, but one thing I’ve learned is that your 20s is the time to take and embrace risks. With no family to feed and no dependents counting on you, your 20s are without a doubt the years to take a leap and pursue your dreams.
3, From deciding to compete in Royco Fuata Flava, to your best and worst experiences on the show, can you share with us about your Fuata Flava journey?’
I saw a Royco Fuata Flava ad for the auditions and knew I couldn’t make it to the Nairobi or Mombasa rounds as I was to sing in church on both days. However, there was still the Kisumu round, the final audition. I saw this competition as a chance to test my cooking chops and get some crucial exposure, so I was determined to attend. All buses and flights to Kisumu were fully booked that weekend, but with the support of my husband I found my way to the audition.
I was so ecstatic to find out that I had been selected as one of the 32 contestants and was excited to meet my competitors. They were a very eclectic mix of people, from a policewoman to a zoologist – some were professional chefs, which was very intimidating. When all the contestants were briefed that presentation was important, I was worried about my lack of professional plating experience. But when Chef Ben emphasized that creativity and flavour were the most crucial factors, I did my best to focus on my strength in making tasty dishes.
Throughout the entire competition, there was a lot of pressure and tension, both on and off camera. There were highs – the moment I won, and lows – the exit of some cherished contestants. Though we all doubted ourselves at some point, when it all came down to it, our dishes spoke for themselves.
The most important lesson I learned, in the words of Walt Disney: All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.
4,What was the first thing that went through your mind when you were announced the winner?
My mind was blank for about 5 seconds. When my brain started working again, I couldn’t believe they had unveiled my dish – MY DISH! I felt a wave of mixed emotions – mostly joy, but also shock and relief that the suspense was done with
5,You mention that you are a home cook, with zero training but you were able to compete against a professional chef with 8+ years of experience, what do you attribute your win to?
First, I must attribute my win to God. He gave me my natural cooking ability and creativity, without which I could have won. Resilience, willingness to stay the course, emotional and physical stamina as well as positive energy were also instrumental in my success. I believe that no matter what you’re doing, you should always try your best. How you do anything is how you do everything. No matter what task you’re faced with – large or small – always seek excellence.
6,What have you been up to since your win and what plans do you have cooking in Amanda’s Kitchen for 2015?
There is quite a bit simmering in Amanda’s Kitchen. I recently launched a desserts line that includes frosted cookies, trifles and crumbles. The Amanda’s Kitchen food blog is up and running, so you can checkout my recipes, cooking tips and random thoughts any time. I’m also working on a YouTube cooking show and some strategic “top secret” partnerships within the culinary industry – stay tuned to see how they unfold.
7,In your final challenge, you were asked to pick three main ingredients to create your ultimate national dish, well, if you were stranded on a desert island and we told you to bring only 3 ingredients, which ones would you carry with you and why?
The first one is garlic. Unfortunately, not every food that is good for us is equally as delicious. Garlic, however, is a superstar ingredient that gives us a nutritional punch and adds wonderful taste to many recipes.
The second is black pepper. A pinch of this spice brightens any dish with a little kick. I always feel free to use it liberally.
Last, but definitely not least is salt. This is an obvious choice – everything needs a bit of salt, even desserts.
8,As someone who took a step of faith to pursue their dreams, what advice or words of wisdom can you share with someone who is yet to make that step?
If there is one thing that holds people back from growing as an individual and becoming the best version of themselves, fear is definitely at the top of the list.
The first thing you need to do to tackle your fear and develop the courage you need to succeed is rewiring your brain. Develop mantras and affirmations that build you up and increase your self-confidence. Read uplifting books to help interrupt the negative inner dialogue that goes on in your mind.
Next, you should come up with a plan. Put down extremely clear goals with deadlines to ensure you are making progress towards your dream.
Lastly, get out of your comfort zone by trying something new everyday. Work on becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable. When you form the habit of doing something daily that scares you, your boldness grows little by little.
This process isn’t going to be easy. There will be loads of sweat, hassle and pain that you will need diligence, perseverance, and an enormous amount of effort and energy to get through. Success doesn’t ‘just happen.’ Never.
What a remarkable lady, her life changing story motivated me to stay true to my dreams, I hope you will too. If you want to know more about her and recipes, check out Amanda’s Kitchen and the banana bread on Simply scrumptious