Interview: Ida Cham shares her benachin cooking secrets

Written by Alieu Khan
She runs the most successful home restaurant in the country. Read our interview with Ida Cham:
What’s On-Gambi: Tell us briefly about yourself.
Ida: My name is Ida Cham, studied Hotel, Tourism and Catering Management in London, UK. I worked at Senegambia Beach Hotel, from 1989 to 2005 on different positions as Food & Beverage Coordinator, Purchasing Manager, Guest Relations Officer and finally Sales and Marketing Officer. I resigned in December 2005 for a more challenging job to Makasutu Eco-Lodge as the General Manager. 
I’m blessed with three boys.
Do you have your own restaurant now?
Yes, at home but only on reservations. It’s not like any other restaurant, where you can only walk in. Mine is very exclusive.
When and how did you start teaching tourists how to cook Gambian dishes?
I have got many European friends and used to invite them in my house, we cook together and they used to say I made their holiday more interesting. That’s how the idea came to me, so I started my home restaurant in 2008.
How long does it take for you to teach a tourist how to cook benachin?
The whole process is from 9am to 2pm.This includes changing their clothes, from European to Gambian, going  to the market, cooking, eating, playing games and exchanging cultural values. But the cooking process is three hours.
It seems like your benachin cooking is filled with secrets. Can you please share with us some of the secrets?
Yes, the most important is the sauting of the pounded ingredients which should be well done and time consuming and slow cooking towards the end- (Baaral) in wollof.
What do you mean by sauting of the pounded ingredients?
Saute means frying the onions, garlic, pepper, tomatoes in oil by adding water. In other words fircasse which is French.
If you could take a culinary tour across one country in Africa, where would you go?
I would go to South Africa! M-Net, a TV network in South Africa, were the first TV that featured me.
What are some of the things you do other than anything cooking-related?
I am running a charity also, to help struggling women. From my proceeds, I offer loans to women, without interest, just to empower them. I am really happy that it is benefiting them.
If you could sit down and have a meal with a popular Gambian, who would that be and why?
It would be Abdou IBM Jobe, because he is real trust worthy and a mentor.
Who is he?
The Minister of Trade Industry, Regional Integration and Employment.
Do you agree that every Gambian woman should know how to cook?
Of course yes.
Any final words?
I named my business after my mother (Yabouy meaning mother). My mother changed our lives and she started from zero. My father died early, so we were brought up by a single parent. When dad died, my mother said she would not remarry; she wanted to focus all her attention on her kids so that they can be successful.  
She started from selling peanut butter.  I have four elder sisters and I am the youngest of the family. Life was so difficult, only two of us were able to go to school that's myself and one of my elder sisters. She put the other three into business. One is a renowned fashion designer who designed all those clothes that my guests put on. 
Mum died in 2005 at the age of 84. MAY HER SOUL REST IN PERFECT PEACE. 
I thank you much for this interview.
Good luck, aunty Ida!