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POOR TEENAGER-TURNED CULINARY EXPERT: My job met my needs but didn’t give me fulfillment

Food is becoming more than just soups, more than just from mouth to stomach; it’s fast becoming a unifying factor, reports ISIOMA MADIKE

Humans, including other living things, cannot survive without food. That’s one level of understanding. There’s another, perhaps, more important level of understanding that is often ignored; the fact that: “Humans may not survive if we continue to eat the wrong kinds of food. Good nutrition is one of the best weapons for fighting illnesses to stay healthy.

“It is an everyday solution that is totally dependent on your determination, will power and discipline.” The above is an assertion from Itoro Effiong-Bright, a Kitchen Instructor, Food Safety specialist, Family Life practitioner and the ‘Chief’ Executive officer at Ibomsoups, a fast penetrating food solution and logistics brand based in Lagos.

To her, food is becoming more than just soup, it’s becoming more than just from mouth to stomach; it’s now a unifying factor in the sense that a lady from one culture learns how to make delicacies of another culture because she likes it.

From about age 13, Effiong-Bright had started accompanying her mother, who was a founding member of the popular Ogba Market. The mother was said to be one of the first persons to sell there. The whole of Ogba then was bush and nothing else.

The only thing you could find then, she recalled, was the Area G Police station and the barracks. Sunday Market was bare ground and people just gathered to sell. There was of course the Ogba Primary School too. So, there were high incidents of rape cases at the time, according to her narrative. Her mother, apart from selling, was also picking up abandoned babies from the bush to the police station. Some abandoned in cartons, others just threw theirs wherever that suited them. Most of the babies were the result of the rape cases and many of the young ladies, never wanted babies they couldn’t take care of. Effiong-Bright said: “I had to sell with my mum as a young girl because she became a widow at 31.

So, we had to start with her to make life happen. In that space of life, I found myself in that market. The market later became bigger and a lot of people came around. And I noticed something in all the markets I’ve been to because sometimes I followed my mum to Agege, Oyingbo and the popular Mile 12 markets.

Basically, I’ve been to all. “And I understand how it works. I saw compromises happen. People want to buy stuff, someone came around to buy vegetables for instance, and as working class people, they hardly had time, not even for shopping.

They usually left, then returned later to pick whatever they had paid for. And the seller within that interval would swap the item picked and replaced with rotten one they were trying to sell off and packaged it for the person. “These working class, upwardly mobile persons would come with their cars, they had money to spend but would end up buying the wrong things because they didn’t have patience, they were always in a hurry, and couldn’t check what was packaged for them.” However, the housewives, who probably don’t have anywhere to go, who are not so busy, she said, comes and waited to supervise what they were buying.

“So, she buys the best and paid less because she had enough time to haggle from one shop to another. But the other just came, give me, give me kind of buying and paid more and got the worse. And I didn’t like it. I just felt it’s not right. Even as a young girl, sometimes I told these women, this thing is not right because my conscience pricks me a lot.

“So, as I grew older, I started hearing about solving problems and what I was witnessing seemed to me like an obvious problem, yet I didn’t know how I could solve it. But as I grew older, I thought of preparing these ingredients because there is something my mum used to do for her customers, who came to buy from her.

“She would say things like, oh, you always come so late, you know what, you can drop when you are going in the morning to work, then by the time you are coming back, you tell me what you want and I would send my daughters, they would buy everything down for you and you would come and pick. “And we would be very upset because she did not ask for our permission before promising that. And she wasn’t collecting any extra money from them. We had a lot of bachelors, married people coming to her for this favour. And they loved my mummy a lot.

So, my mum had that exceptional customer service and it drew a lot of customers to her. “And I felt there is something I could also do along this line, because I saw the impact of these when we were getting married. These customers gave us a lot of money when we were getting married. They became like what you could call wedding sensors because they all supported us in diverse ways. And that for me is okay, my mum is giving value, and I asked: what value can I also give? “That was where the vision started from as a young girl. So, my mum actually inspired this vision in me. The Ogba Market experience eventually became a training ground for me. And now I’m so fulfilled doing what I love to do and I’m seeing results. I see that my customers are satisfied, they are happy, I get those feedback. So, for me it’s beyond cooking, I’m building families; I’m building homes.

That was how the whole idea started.” Over time, she realised that good nutrition is one of the most weapons for fighting sicknesses to stay healthy. According to her, “it’s an everyday solution that is totally dependent on your determination, will power and discipline.” Effiong-Bright, who started as a teenager on the streets of Ogba, an outskirt of Lagos, has grown over time to a full woman, becoming in the process a Kitchen Instructor, Food Safety specialist, Family Life practitioner and the ‘Chief’ Executive officer at Ibomsoups. Aside culinary training and event catering, the brand prepares and doorstep-delivers over 70 different Nigerian dishes to busy professionals and entrepreneurs.

“We also deliver ready-to-cook ingredients to our clients,” she told Saturday Telegraph. The Banking and Finance graduateturned culinary advocate also attended Fate Foundation, Headstone Entrepreneurship College (HEC) and Enterprise Development centre at the Pan-African University. This is besides her certification from Dr. Chris Williams’ Family Health and Wellness International programme. She said: “Over the years, we have been taught to pay attention to the quantity of food we eat. Unfortunately, we have done this at the expense of something even more critical – the quality of food we eat.

If, indeed, we want to live and stay healthy, we must accept the fact that good nutrition is one of the most potent weapons for fighting illnesses and staying healthy. Let that sink in. Staying healthy is not really that difficult.” The culinary expert said she already had an interest in food processing and preparation since she was a teenager. “But I didn’t think as far as wanting to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to be a banker; then along the line, I developed a lot of interest in teaching.

So, it looked like lecturing would be it, and I pursued good grades in school to help me to attain this. But with each passing day came the desire to want to know more about the kinds of food we have in Nigeria and how to make the most of them.” To attain this height, she had to attend trainings. In 2016, she founded Kitchen Integrity, a multi-dimensional culinary initiatives aimed at making individuals and organisations rethink the process of cooking. But, she had to work first after graduation, as, according to her, “It was basically the next thing to do after schooling. When you graduate, the next thing you want is a job.

It was the same for me. My job met my needs at the time but didn’t give me the ultimate fulfillment I wanted. There was something missing. “With time, as I continued to render my service to family and friends, I discovered that I derived joy from it, though I wasn’t making a profit. Every day I left for work, I looked forward to going home to cook for my family and friends, who requested that I helped. So, I started planning my exit from paid employment almost five years before I eventually resigned.

I knew I needed to do a lot of planning, undergo a lot of training and do a lot of preparations. “I took them in bits and was patient with the process –my last two years in paid employment was one of the most difficult periods for me. I had to sacrifice a lot of my sleep time for training, attending to personal business (Ibomsoups) and caring for my children. I went through all these because I didn’t want to resign from my job when I wasn’t sure if my business could pay my bills. I resigned because it was time.

“I couldn’t juggle both anymore. Business required my attention more as we had got more customers at the time. So, I had to discipline myself, summoned the courage and left to face my dreams. I had already started running my business before I got job with Etisalat now 9Mobile, though I was running it on a very small scale. I didn’t have an employee then.

I did the procurement, cooking and delivery all by myself. “Fulfillment! I can answer ‘yes’ a hundred times. In business, there are several challenges, but I still can’t compare this to the fulfillment I derive from pursuing my dreams – that feeling you have when you know you are giving value and it’s been appreciated.

That feeling you have when you can empower someone, pay their salaries and still sustain your passion. There’s so much peace. “At the initial stage I was the only one working and it was really tough. I couldn’t afford to employ anyone then. So, I did everything myself.

It was a major challenge as I was always looking stressed and tired.” Prior to her current engagement, she worked at Freedom Organisation of Nigeria, MTN and 9Mobile (Etisalat). She is an alumnus of Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) – the Entrepreneurship Centre of the Pan-Atlantic University, Fate Foundation, DCW Family Wellness International and University of Uyo. She has equally authored a well-received book now in its second print – “Make Your Food Your Medicine”. Her current project “Miracles in the Kitchen” aims at making homes a paradise using women as change agents.

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