One sunny afternoon in February 2017, out of the blue, I received a phone call from one of the producers of My Kitchen Rules UK asking me to participate in their cookery show.
My first response was “How did you hear about me?” followed by “Why me?” and so many other questions. In the end, after discussing with my ever so supportive husband, I agreed to go on the show. My main reason for agreeing to be in the competition was to showcase authentic Nigerian cooking as best as I was allowed to. This was going to be the beginning of an exciting gastronomical journey through Nigeria, Africa.
Even after being headhunted, the selection process was loooooong!
I was asked to bring a friend along as we were going to be cooking in pairs, so I decided to bring my lovely friend Genevieve along. She has quite a lot of experience with cooking. We were given the brief and were going to be hosted and judged by the renowned Irish chef Rachel Allen and the Michelin star chef Glynn Purnell. This was going to be over a 4-month period!
In this round, you were allowed to cook your own food. Trust us, we went all out on Nigerian food. I quickly realised that we were not going to be allowed to use pre-prepared ingredients. Everything had to be from scratch, including the stock!
When our turn to cook came, we called our pop-up for the night ‘African Buka’ and we served up:
Starter – Fried Plantain and Prawns in my homemade OSO chilli sauce
Main – Jollof Rice with Suya-spiced beef and Efo Riro
Dessert – Zobo Cake with Pineapple flowers and Chantilly cream
The food was enjoyed by the contestants and the judges (bar the Suya beef that was said to be too well done for their palates). I quickly educated them about the authenticity of the dish and that in Nigeria, we eat our Suya like that – well done. I was not going to compromise on an authentic dish because of a TV competition plus Nigerians will come for me with everything they’ve got (they can be militant like that when it comes to their food. Ask Jamie Oliver #jollofgate. LOL)
The scores and the reviews came in and we did good! We moved to the top of the leader board and were the second in the Northern region with Rachel Allen asking for the recipe for my chilli sauce.
We were going to be cooking at the MKR mansion with a guest judge aaaand a mystery ingredient. We were also going to be joined by different contestants from other regions. For our guest judge, we got the legendary Allegra McEvedy (we couldn’t have had a better chef) and she brought along the only LIVE mystery ingredient in the entire competition – CRABS!
After much thought and guidance from ‘boss-boss chef’ (as we called her on the show), we decided to cook:
Main – Thai crab curry with Noodles accompanied with Sambal
Dessert – African cheesecake with Mango Sorbet and a chilli crispy mango skin (I created that on the spot when something else went wrong)
Again, everyone at the table enjoyed the food because their plates looked clean (or so we thought). One of the contestants didn’t like the smoky flavour of the crab, some felt the noodles were overdone (I think they were) but everyone enjoyed the chin-chin and the revelation that was chilli crispy mango skin(none of the contestants and the judges had ever eaten mango skin before and they loved it)
The scores and the reviews came in and we did good! Top of the leader board (again!) and second place at the mansion round.
This was The People’s choice segment and we didn’t know until a few minutes before the challenge that we were cooking for young Harry Potter fans.
We would be cooking outdoors on open fire and so the other contestants assumed this meant we had an advantage because they imagined we only cook with firewood and coals in Africa!
As always, I educated and advised them not to believe everything they see on TV.
We decided to make:
Main – Spicy Chicken with vegetable relish
Dessert – Grilled pineapple with spicy rum syrup
The food was very much relished by both kids and judges (with the kids asking for more).
The rum was kind of too spicy for a dessert (my fault) but they still loved it.
So, the scores and reviews are in and yours truly did great again! We didn’t get the people’s choice vote BUT we made it to the next round. Yay!
By this point in the competition, I had already met 7 of the best chefs in the country with 6 Michelin stars between them. Wow.
Still standing! We had to create a vegetarian dish and (you guessed right), we went straight to Africa as the source of our recipe. Nigeria was the destination but we made a stopover in South-Africa. Our aim was to make the vegetables and pulses sing, especially when it was going to be judged by the vegetable aficionado Thomasina Miers. We decided to make:
Main – Akara and Gbegiri with Chakalaka and a side of Chilli sauce
The brief said vegetarian so we went all out and (never done in the history of MKR), we used 14 different vegetables. The judges were truly amazed and pleased with us.
So, in comes the scores and reviews. The judges enjoyed our dish. They loved the flavours of the dish but weren’t pleased with the burnt potatoes and our presentation. :(
However, we made it through to the Semi-Finals!
The brief for this round was to create a 3-course Indian meal which had to be fine dining. This round was the most challenging as I had never cooked an Indian dish in my life. As if that wasn’t bad enough, while cooking, I received a call that a friend had died suddenly. This death came on the back of another ( I was also going to travel to Manchester as soon as we finished filming to attend the funeral of a childhood friend). All of this joined the ongoing stress of filming, which was beginning to get to Genevieve and me…and was even testing our working relationship!
I’ll never forget that day. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong and quickly too (Sod’s Law. Not making excuses but I am, kind of.) Genevieve on the other hand, felt confident because she had cooked Indian dishes before and therefore we had a good chance at this. We decided to make
Starter – Goan fish croquettes with Raita and Tomato Chutney
Main – Chicken chettinad with lemon rice
Dessert – Carrot Halwa with Vanilla orange and Chantilly cream
Well, by the time the round was over, I was done! It wasn’t our best and we knew it. The judges appreciated the effort and the various techniques that we employed but it wasn’t our finest moment.
The scores and reviews came in and sadly, it was the end of the journey for us. The better team won the day and so we hung up our MKR aprons…
All in all, it was a great experience and the one-to-one learning was invaluable. I met some of the best chefs in the country and made some good friends too. By cooking mostly authentic Nigerian dishes, we got to the semi-final. Now THAT can’t be said of many people! I am glad we were able to educate a lot of people about African food, spices, and flavours.
Will I ever go on a TV show again? OH YES!
As long as it is an opportunity for me to showcase Nigerian food and talk about my homemade OSO chilli sauces, I’m in!