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93 Hours and 11 Minutes: A Nigerian Sets a World Record for Marathon Cooking, Exciting the Country in Her Feat


Hilda Bassey broke the Guinness World Record this year for the longest cooking marathon by an individual, competing with such well-known dishes as jollof rice. In Lagos, where she lives and works her kitchen, Bassey’s feat inspired many Nigerians to try set records, such as the longest nonstop kiss, but Guinness rejected the idea. Instagram © Hilda Baci

LAGOS — When Hilda Bassey broke the Guinness World Record for the longest cooking marathon by an individual, she had no real professional cooking experience. Though steeped in Nigerian food culture, she had not gone to cooking school. Her main experience was watching her mother run a restaurant while also feeding a family of nine.

Bassey’s first unsupervised undertaking in the kitchen was when she was only 7 or 8 years old, she recalled during an interview with PassBlue, at a studio in Lekki, Lagos, where she was preparing for a magazine photoshoot. “I made pasta. It was so good and they asked me to make it again — and I made rubbish.”

Two months ago, Bassey, now 27 and a seasoned food-media personality, united Nigerians as she fought to break the world record for the longest nonstop cooking session by a single person. And set a new one. It was a grueling 93-plus hours for this 5-foot-6 woman as she toiled in a makeshift glass-walled kitchen, under the watchful eyes of a wildly enthusiastic crowd.

Cooking has always been more than a chore or a leisure activity for her, she said. “It is more of a talent. The way musicians are talented to sing. My talent is cooking,” she said.

Bassey’s talent shone in 2021 when she bagged a prize of $5,000 in a face-off over jollof rice, a savory dish calling for tomatoes, hot pepper and great skill, beating a cook from Ghana, Nigeria’s archrival in the jollof rice war, and affirming Nigeria’s bragging rights as winner of West Africa’s ongoing jollof rice war.

During the recent marathon cooking frenzy, watched over by Guinness World Records, Bassey prepared dozens of dishes, jollof rice included, which were served to the hundreds of Nigerians who ignored bad weather to cheer her on. Giant digital clocks monitored the hours as they slowly ticked by, all live-streamed on Instagram and documented on CCTV cameras as part of the materials reviewed by the judges.

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The long hours were hard, Bassey says, but she was fueled by the overwhelming support from Nigerians. She got only five minutes of rest per hour, under Guinness guidelines, leading to a painful sacrifice of seven hours at one point when she lingered past the five-minute mark.

Her goal, she said simply, was to put herself and Nigeria on the world map.

Despite being penalized seven hours, Bassey still surpassed the previous record of 87 hours, 45 minutes, held by Lata Tondon, an Indian chef, toppling it with a new record of 93 hours, 11 minutes.

“It was very beautiful to watch Nigerians, young and old, unite and support a fellow Nigerian to victory,” said Ebenezar Wakina, a policy advocate who has benefited from Nigerians’ enthusiasm during campaigns for and others. “It shows what is really possible when we unite and forget the tribal sentiments and politics that divide us, and just push for a common goal. I’m so happy that Hilda inspired this national moment of unity.”

The fangirling was not left to regular Nigerians alone; celebrities and politicians also paid a visit to Lekki. The governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, tasted some of the dishes Bassey made, and after it was all over he commended her dedication. “Hilda,” he proclaimed, “you’ve made Lagos proud and your accomplishment is a testament to the Nigerian spirit.”

Bassey grew up in southeastern Akwa Ibom State, an area known for its soups and other fare, the second of seven siblings and oldest girl. She says she has a beautiful relationship with her mother, who supported her on her Guinness World Record journey. And “at the center of everything I’ve tried to do for the most part has been cooking,” she told PassBlue.

Bassey’s career path was always about showcasing indigenous African cuisines, she said. She hosted a breakfast show on Rave TV’s “Morning Rave” and was featured on “Dine on a Budget,” a show on Nigeria’s Pop Central TV. Shortly before the pandemic, Bassey opened My Food by Hilda, a food prep and delivery service in Lagos, but with the lockdown that followed it was not prime time to start a business. (It has since been revived.) Bassey then thought about doing something “big” that could relaunch her career. Enter Guinness and its famous world records.

When she saw the ground rules, she knew it would be a lot to pull off. She would need physical stamina plus a meticulous PR plan to draw attention  to her feat — assuming she’d succeed.

Her PR strategy worked. Days before the cook-a-thon started, she had started trending on Nigerian Twitter. Throughout the nearly-four-day sweatfest, it dominated Nigerian social media. Even Guinness, conceivably world-weary after some 68 years in business, benefitted: “Our best performing tweet of all time with nearly 25 million news feeds reached,” the organization said about its message announcing the new record holder.

Bassey’s achievement has touched off a world-record craze here in Nigeria. At least 20 people have announced they are taking on one record or another. There is Damilola Adeparusi, known as Chef Dammy, who attempted to cook for 120 hours weeks after Bassey’s win (and failed). A university lecturer, Joshua Hassan, announced he planned to teach for 150 hours (perhaps not all of that time before a packed audience). An up-and-coming musician known as Sugartee intends to set a record for nonstop kissing — though Guinness rejected that category on the grounds of hygiene. It also declined to participate when an emotive aspirant named Tembu Ebere tried to set a record for the longest hours crying.

“I think it’s a good sign,” Bassey said about others trying to break records. “I honestly think it is because my effort is successful and well done, that is why a lot of people are now trying to push through their limits and push through their boundaries to break records in several fields.”

While Bassey has been gracious, there are those who feel the flippant approach by some of the other would-be contenders undermines Bassey’s hard work. Since Bassey set the record, she has been featured on BBC, interviewed by CNN’s Zain Asher on the “Exchange” and appeared on countless local media. In June, when PassBlue chatted with her as she was getting dolled up for that photoshoot, she said it had been a hectic, overwhelming couple of weeks, acknowledging that “it comes with the terrain.”

In this interview for PassBlue’s Women as Changemakers column, Bassey discussed her world record and what’s next for her. The interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

PassBlue: What inspired your Guinness World Record attempt?

Bassey: I’ve just always known what I want for my life and that has informed how much effort I put into my work. It just felt like it was time. Last year, I had a couple of goals — opening a restaurant was one of the bits. So I almost always have a project at hand. I wanted a challenge and I wanted to set a precedent for my business and brand, and wanted my name in the sands of time. This fits the pocket.

PassBlue: Absolutely, and you sure know how to use the media. How were you able to make the competition national news?

Bassey: It’s the beautiful art of PR and just being very intentional. I also think it was the fact that this was a journey that a lot of Nigerians and Africans could relate to. I knew it was important to get the word out, so I did my due diligence and worked with the best, in my opinion, PR managers. They were very understanding of the vision and ran with the vision. They captured everything. There were also prayers.  It is possible to do all we’ve done and no one would care. So, God’s grace was also a strong factor.

PassBlue: That PR must have cost a lot. Do you want to put a figure on it?

Bassey: Definitely not, because that takes away from the whole. . . [But] think of a luxury car.

PassBlue: You did a couple of things before the marathon. What were they?

Bassey: I hosted a breakfast show, the cooking segments, on TV. I had a show on DSTV where I cooked as well. I worked in retail for a time as well. But at the center of everything I’ve tried to do has predominantly been cooking. My brother and I started a [food related] business before I graduated from university. We ran it for about two years and then, you know, went about our lives. I sort of revived the business in 2020 and called it My Food by Hilda.

PassBlue: Tell us about the Guinness guidelines.

Bassey: The guidelines are about 30-something pages long. There’s a list of evidence [that must be submitted] and rules. . . .For any marathon, you need a very competent team. And as sensitive and as technical as the record that I put forward to break, it required a lot of effort to be able to do this and do it well. Now, because there are so many rules and so much evidence required, it means that if I or anybody else was to slack off on one aspect of the guidelines, we could lose everything. You saw that [five] minutes of time cost us seven hours that had already been done, and that was with us being extremely careful, incredibly meticulous with every single thing, and following all the rules. I trusted in God and know God won’t bring me this far to fail.

PassBlue: I see that you are religious. Let’s talk about that. 

Bassey: I believe in God and attribute every single thing that I am, have and will be to God and God’s grace because I honestly feel like I felt God and have seen His hands multiple times in the course of my life. So in truth, where my strength and my physical abilities and my connections can take me, God has taken me. I might not be able to quote multiple Bible verses, but I am religious and very respectful of God.

PassBlue: How did you learn to cook?

Bassey: I did not go to any catering school. I am very self-taught. Cooking for me is more of a talent. The way people know how to sing, I just know how to cook. Obviously, watching my mum definitely helped. I picked up a lot from her. My mom is a caterer. She had a restaurant. I helped a lot. I was in an environment that allowed me to thrive. My work ethics and business sense are from her.

PassBlue: What was your childhood like? Any funny food-related memories?

Bassey: One Sunday, we were going to church. I was very small. My mum had been warning me to be calm, but I did not listen. I was jumping and I fell and sat on a pot of stew. Everyone in the house started laughing. It was not funny for me at the time! I grew up with lots of kids because my mum likes to have lots of kids around. That also means there was always someone to talk to and things to talk about. On days when my mom went to work, we would just experiment in the kitchen. I remember I would use my money for snacks to buy things to cook. I have always been that kid. [When I was about 7 or 8 years old] I made my first dish, pasta. It was so good and they asked me to make it again — and I made rubbish.

PassBlue: What’s next?

Bassey: Opening a bigger restaurant, chain restaurants. I also want food festivals. I am working on a line of cookware and working with brands.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on Hilda Bassey?

Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.

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93 Hours and 11 Minutes: A Nigerian Sets a World Record for Marathon Cooking, Exciting the Country in Her Feat
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