Twenty-seven-year-old Hilda Effiong Bassey, popularly known as Hilda Baci, deserves all the accolade she is getting, having put herself and Nigeria on the global culinary map with her longest cooking marathon that has been officially recognised by the Guinness World Records (GWR) and a certificate issued to her for the feat. Apart from debunking notion held by many people in and out of the country that Nigeria is more problematic than otherwise, Baci has opened another window of hope for others, particularly the youth, that, with some exertion, resilience and perseverance, they could be the best among the best world-wide, irrespective of their social or economic background.
Eminent Nigerians, including former President Muhammadu Buhari and former Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, who were full of joy and excitement for Baci’s achievement, hailed her for making the nation proud.
Hilda Baci, from Akwa Ibom State, took the world by storm when she cooked over 100 meals and fed over a thousand people during 100 hours that straddled four days of cooking tagged ‘Hilda Baci Cookathon,’ which began at 4:00 p.m. on May 11 and ended at 10:00 p.m. on May 15, 2023. By cooking for 100 hours, Baci automatically beat the world’s current holder of the record, Lata Tondon from India, who held a time of 87 hours, 45 minutes.
For about a month, anxiety gripped Baci’s fans who expected that the Guinness World Records would immediately declare her as the new holder of the title. On May 15, the day Baci broke the global record, a Twitter user asked why she had not been announced as the new holder of the title on the Guinness World Records social media handles, and the organisation’s official Twitter handle immediately replied, saying they were aware of her amazing attempt but were still reviewing the evidence before making any official announcements. The anticipated recognition came at last when the Guinness World Records gave Baci a certificate for the amazing cooking feat, despite deducting almost seven hours from the final total of 100 hours “due to her taking extra minutes for one of her rest breaks” and the Nigerian chef still beat Tondon with her balance of 93 hours.
In a story by Vicki Newman titled, ‘Hilda Baci squeals with excitement as she unveils cooking marathon certificate,’ published on GWR website on June 20, 2023, the body said: “Hilda cried tears of joy when she received news from us that her record attempt was successful, sharing the moment with her devoted army of fans in an emotional Instagram
For the cooking, which took place at Amore Gardens, Lekki in Lagos, Baci, who initially set a 96-hour record for herself, went further to achieve 100 hours. She did well to showcase her culinary skills using local and intercontinental recipes to put Nigeria on the global map. The attempt saw the chef take an hour break after every 12 hours of cooking witnessed by the Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and celebrities like Tiwa Savage, Banky, Adesua Wellington, Teni the entertainer, and Spyro.
Baci’s achievement was a celebration of perseverance, a virtue crucial for success in human endeavours. Several times, she was close to the limit of her endurance of having to stay awake cooking for four days, but each time, she mustered the courage to forge ahead with the daunting task. “In the beginning when I started the attempt, the first day was the hardest. I almost gave up a couple of times. As time went on, my family, friends, followers and in general the public that turned up for my attempt sort of became part of the dream and journey. Even when I wanted to give up and I saw how much people have invested their time, it dawned on me more that I wasn’t just doing this for myself,” Baci told journalists days after she broke the cooking record.
The story of Hilda Baci is that of self-discovery that spurred her to develop her talent and acquire more skills to achieve self-reliance and contribute to national development.
At an early age, she was well aware of her capabilities and she resolved to make an impact. More importantly, she had an instinct to embark on an entrepreneurial journey, although she was unsure of where to start. Interestingly, her love for cooking was all she needed to get going. Her cooking prowess is a skill that runs in her family. After spending time with her mother, who also owns a restaurant, preparing various recipes, Hilda and her brother later started a food business known as ‘My Food’, during her days as a Sociology student at the Madonna University, Okija, Anambra State. She further learnt about the requirements for operating a restaurant when she served as a manager at Breaking King, a breakfast company. As an actress, Baci starred in a couple of movies, including Dreamchaser. In 2020, she co-hosted Yellow Star, a music reality project by MTN to discover, nurture, expose and launch music talents in young Nigerians.
Baci is a very consistent person who nurtured her sojourn in cooking to be a ‘foodpreneur’ by being a TV favourite on cooking shows. From the ‘In my Kitchen’ segment on the Rave TV’s breakfast show, Morning Rave, to being the host of ‘Dine on A Budget’ on Pop Central TV, Baci showcased various recipes to the audience’s delight. Her cooking talent was further showcased and rewarded in 2021 when she emerged winner of the Jollof Faceoff Competition challenge in Ghana, going home with a $5,000 prize.
The Guinness World Records is considered as the world’s foremost authority on global records basically to celebrate the best in the world with a view to inspiring, entertaining and informing all people. Though the organisation does not give any type of economic compensation for any achievement made by anybody, it serves as a source of inspiration and encouragement for people to doggedly pursue their dreams and translate them into realities. The certificate issued to Hilda Baci, which is the official seal that confirms her place in history following her cooking feat, should serve as a stimulant to other Nigerians to strive for excellence in their chosen career, which could lift the country to greater heights.
Baci’s achievement came at a time some experts are calling for a review of the current education system operative in the country, which tends to place too much emphasis on paper qualifications. They argue that it is no longer enough to be a graduate, as every graduate needs to be certificated in certain skilled or professional areas to be able to access the job market effectively. As is the case in most countries currently, Nigerian graduates and other job seekers should focus their attention on the 21st century skills required to achieve self-reliance and to make them fit for the market of today and tomorrow.
It is interesting to note that a younger 22-year-old Nigerian, Damilola Adeparusi, a Mass Communication student of the Federal University of Oye-Ekiti, is already planning to take the global title from Hilda Baci by cooking for over 100 hours in Ekiti State in July this year. Although her feat has not been officially documented, hers is yet another indication that for young Nigerians, who believe in themselves and seek personal fulfillment, the sky is the starting point regarding what they can accomplish. More talented Nigerians should use their skills in different areas to develop themselves and earn respect for the country in the international community.