The art of cooking means something different for everyone — whether for comfort, family or health; to entertain or make memories.
For one Lorna Mweu, cooking is a passion that has created an avenue to become a household name.
Mamake Bobo, as she is fondly known by her friends and peers, has carved a niche in the catering industry and on this Thursday when we sit down to retrace her cooking journey, she has prepared for us a sumptuous meal of spaghetti and chopped sausages.
Up close and candid, Lorna has a bubbly personality. She is curvaceous, beautiful, and passionate about God and life.
For her, life has been a roller-coaster ride. She has had to go through a host of crises to be where she is now.
Born in Mombasa and raised in Mwea, 26-year-old Lorna recounts memories of her childhood where her love for cooking began.
“I was born in a family of three siblings. My dad worked in Mombasa — he still does. I went to Ndindiruku Primary School in Mwea. I went through a normal life just like any other kid raised in a rural setup,” she says.
After completing her primary education, she joined Kabare Girls High School where she got an A-minus in her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams.
“My dad wanted me to pursue a career in law but this wasn’t my dream as I always thought I would make a better marketer. He, until today, tells people that I am a lawyer. I wanted to do a course in marketing because that was my passion,” she says.
Lorna followed her passion and joined Moi University in Eldoret where she earned a degree in marketing. A few months before starting classes, Lorna discovered she was pregnant. She thought her marketing dream would end.
“It was one of the toughest moments of my life. I felt dejected by everyone. I was heartbroken. I didn’t know how I was going to survive my campus days with a pregnancy. But despite all that, God was gracious to me,” she explains.
When she graduated from university in April 2012, Lorna needed a job now that she had a baby to raise.
She offers: “I was jobless and devastated. It took the intervention of a friend from campus who accommodated me in her house. I used to spend a lot of time in cyber cafes trying to apply for jobs. I would walk to the cyber which was about three kilometres from where we stayed and I remember one month when I sent out over 200 job applications. Life was tough.”
Her prayers were answered when she finally landed a sales job at Kenya Orient Insurance.
“The best part about the job was flexible hours. That meant I had some free time on my hands to do something else so I started selling cables that I sourced from Gikomba,” says Lorna.
“I got most of my clients from Facebook group ‘Soko Kuu’ and on a lucky day, I would sell about seven cables and was able to save some cash,” she recalls.
Determined to live a better life and give her baby the best once it was born, Lorna worked twice as hard.
“There were days when I slept hungry and failed to pay my rent on time now that I had to move out of my friend’s place when I started making some little money,” she says.
With her marketing prowess, she also started selling bra straps to supplement her income. She had become a Jane of all trades.
“I would buy the straps at Sh80 a pair and sell the same at Sh250,” she recalls.
“I am one person who would rather sleep hungry but be debt free. With the money I got from the sales, I paid off all my debts and finally managed some luxury. I could now afford a meal of chips and chicken,” she tearfully recalls.
She gave birth in October 2012 and is grateful that her mum was there to nurse her.
“I continued with the sales from my bed because I needed money for my child’s upkeep. I would order and my friends would deliver to the respective clients. Twenty eight days later, I resumed work. At this time, insurance was paying off well as I managed to get good commissions,” she says.
In 2013, she was promoted to senior sales person for her dedication at work.
“The position came with a lot of benefits. Life became better and I got more motivated,” she says.
In March 2014, she earned herself another promotion and became the Relationship Officer.
Last year, Lorna made a tough decision when she quit her job.
No safety net
“My family and friends thought I was crazy. They couldn’t understand why I was quitting my job just when things were getting better for me. But all through my life, I have always wanted to be self-employed. The fact that I could wake up, plan and manage my time pushed me to make that decision,” says Lorna.
“I told myself I would try self-employment for a year and if it didn’t work, I would search for another job. If you have a safety net, you won’t work as hard but if you have nothing on your hands you must put in a lot of effort to accomplish the best,” she adds.
And that is how her Facebook group Upishi Zone, now 23,000+ members strong, was born.
Says Lorna: “It can be hard to market yourself in the catering business. I created the group for my visibility and get to learn how to cook different recipes from other people. Within no time, I started getting referrals.
My focus was not profit but to impress. If a client ordered a meal of ugali and sukuma wiki, I strove to present the food to their satisfaction and would go out of my way to add extra things like meat and serviettes as part of customer service.
She started cooking from her house in Kasarani where she had moved to but her landlady chased her away on grounds of causing disturbance to other tenants.
“I foresaw the same problems recurring if I moved to another flat hence decided to relocate to Muchatha in Kiambaa, Kiambu County and got a house for which I would pay Sh40,000 for rent. I needed adequate space since sometimes I was required to prepare meals for big functions like weddings, corporate events hence would cook overnight,” she explains. She hires casuals to assist her when need be.
She started compiling her recipes into a book, Mamake Bobo Jikoni recipe book, which was officially published in September 2015. The book costs Sh250. Within the first month, she had sold books worth Sh450,000 and this enabled her invest in more equipment.
“When someone cooks for me I find myself thinking of different ways to combine the flavours to achieve a particular harmony. My greatest desire is to make Kenyans appreciate good food and teach women how to prepare tasty meals with the simplest ingredients in their kitchen,” she says.
Lorna cooks a variety of dishes including Italian, Indian, traditional dishes, and has gone ahead to publish a second book, Mamake Bobo Jikoni Recipe Book 2 which is an advanced edition. The two books have 102 recipes. She also offers cooking lessons.
Today, she prepares meals for different organisations such as banks, corporate organisations, insurance companies, non-governmental organisations. She also caters at church functions and events like weddings, birthday parties, graduation parties and end of year staff parties.
She has handled big functions where she has fed 1,500 people but feels she has the capacity to handle even 3,000 people.
Her plan is to expand her catering business and source for endorsements from big companies. She also hopes to start a catering school. She is currently working on a TV show which will be launched by April to help women sharpen their cooking skills.
For Lorna, the sky is the limit.
“I am inspired by my journey which has taught me the importance of believing in yourself. Moving from grass to grace is the best thing that happened to me,” she says.
“When you challenge yourself, you will be surprised at what you can do. Fortune favours a prepared mind. When you are passionate about doing something, pray about it, strategise and research. That is the easiest path to success,” advices Lorna.