Nyandarua 'village chefs' soothe palates on path to self-reliance

Ebenezer chefs Damaris Wambui, Jane Kirathe and Consolata Chege.

Photo credit: Waikwa Maina I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Ndaragua is a semi-arid area and casual jobs are hard to come by for the better part of the year; worse still, there is minimal activity on residents’ farms, so many people find it difficult to provide for their families.
  • Ebenezer Chefs in Shamata, Nyandarua County, say they can come to your rescue even in case of a small budget but still provide high-quality meals to your guests. They have become popular with residents in need of outside catering services.

If you have a wedding, funeral, or any other social event but are frustrated by the high cost of outside catering, or are concerned about the quality of meals for your guests, worry no more.

A six-member women’s group operating as Ebenezer Chefs in Shamata, Ndaragua, Nyandarua County, says they will come to your rescue. They are already giving hotels, restaurants and other seasoned outside catering service providers a run for their money.

Even on a small budget, they prepare classy, delicious meals under your supervision, guiding you on the best menu and quantity based on the expected number of guests, they say. They are a living embodiment of women’s empowerment.

Ms Damaris Wambui, one of the women, says they get handsome returns from their venture, a business concept whose rapid growth and popularity are due to quality and efficiency. Damaris is glad to have encountered economic hardship before venturing into delicacy-making. She says their suffering offered a silver lining that propelled them to financial independence.

Ndaragua is a semi-arid area and casual jobs are hard to come by for the better part of the year. Worse still, there is minimal activity on residents’ farms.

But with cheffing, their lives have changed for the better. They can provide for their families, which proved difficult before when they spent most of their time worrying about where to get casual jobs and where their meals would come from.

The young mothers have specialised in catering, capitalising on an unexploited area. Today, their popularity has earned them the moniker ‘village chefs’. Damaris says they plan their work so that out of busy schedules, they still have enough time to spend with their families.

Ms Agnes Kamundia has contracted the team twice during her family events. She says the women make event organising affordable for residents and guarantee quality services.

“Before, it was very hard for people, especially low-income earners, to organise colourful events; we mostly relied on women volunteers to prepare meals for guests. It was tedious, committing the women who also have other personal engagements.

“The cost of having Ebenezer Chefs offer the services is low; they are efficient; most people enjoy meals prepared and served at home in their presence,” says Ms Kamundia.

In one of the events, Ms Kamundia had 250 guests. Each would have incurred Sh250 in hotels for the same services and menu offered by Ebenezer Chefs. She says Ebenezer charged less than that.

“What makes it cheaper is that the group will give a rough estimate of the items and foods needed to be bought for the event, guided by the number of guests and the type of foods to be prepared. They then charge a fee for the services, depending on the nature of the day’s activities. But their charges were Sh10,000 and Sh15,000 for the two events,” she says.

Ms Jane Kirathe says that in their case, event owners do not incur transport expenses. “We do our cooking at the customer's home, which means we have no additional charges for vans to transport the waiters and other related logistics that consume a big part of the budget for the event owner.

“The other advantage to the customers is that the food is prepared at home where they can supervise and give directions. The customers understand their guests well and their tastes. That consultation to help meet the guests’ tastes and preferences is an added advantage to us,” she says.

Ms Consolata Chege says their journey started in 2020, after a catering course sponsored by the National Government Affirmative Action Fund through the office of the Nyandarua Woman Representative.

“We got word that our woman representative, Ms Faith Gitau, was sponsoring young mothers and the youth to take up courses of their choice and we chose to do catering for three months, fully sponsored by NGAAF. More than 30 women from our village underwent the training but gave up on using the skills as a business venture.

Husbands no longer roam

“Due to many challenges, particularly getting customers at that time, it was hard to market ourselves. But we eventually made it to where we are today. Those who remained persistent are today reaping some good benefits. We can educate our children and carry out some family development projects.

“Improved cooking for our families has also brought back home our husbands. The families are more united. We also train other women in cooking when we can afford the time,” says Ms Chege.

Ms Gitau says she is encouraged by the women's performance, adding that phase two of the programme will support them with modern equipment.

“The training was a trial after wider consultations, but we are today proud of what the women are doing. They are using the skills to build their lives and their families. A total of 70 groups benefitted from the training. Some of them have already received the equipment they need for the jobs. We will ensure they are all fully empowered,” says the lawmaker.

Each member has specialised in specific types of food and is always in charge of their preparation, but they all complement each other's efforts to deliver quality food.

“Some specialised in snacks like cakes and how to design them, depending on the event. We have a specialist in rice and pilau and every other meal. This field requires patience and creativity. Our unique way of incorporating traditional foods like sweet potatoes, yams, and arrowroots makes us popular. These are foods that most people believed could only be used for breakfast or as snacks or appetisers,” says Ms chege.

Each member takes home between Sh1,500 and Sh3,000 daily, while 25 per cent of the day’s earnings are saved in the group's bank account for other initiatives.

“It has not been a walk in the park. We started by cooking for our families, then for small merry-go-round women’s groups. We used these small events to market ourselves. It took almost a year of that marketing strategy to get some business.

“The biggest event we organised was a wedding ceremony attended by over 2,000 guests. We rely on our high-quality services to market ourselves; most of the guests we serve later invite us or refer us to their friends,” said Ms Chege.

They network with different organisations. At big or crash events, they invite other trained women’s groups to support them and serve all guests well. They then share the proceeds depending on their agreements.