EXCLUSIVE (Zimbabwe Investor): On an American summer day in 2012, a woman stood in front of world renowned celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay to audition for hit cookery TV show, MasterChef USA. As people watched to see what the woman had in store, she introduced to the America, “Sadza nenyama yehuku nemuriwo unedovi”. That woman’s name is Seattle-based Zimbabwean Shamiso Okafor (Born Shamiso Marangwanda).
Her name in the Shona language means “the amazing”. Zimbabwe Investor caught up with the amazing Shamiso 8 months after her appearance on MasterChef USA.
Zimbabwe Investor (ZI): Firstly, can you please tell us in brief about your early years as a child growing up in Zimbabwe?
Shamiso Okafor (SO): Gosh, where do I start? We moved a lot as my dad was a mining engineer. We lived in Shurugwi, Harare, Gweru and Zvishavane. I grew up in a home filled with love and I remember playing outside with my brothers and sister for hours on end! I remember riding our bicycles and knowing everyone who drove by us, because we were mostly in small towns. My mother was a teacher and was firm but loving. I remember going fishing with my dad on weekends to Shamva dam and Lake Chivero. I remember holidays going to see my grandma in the village in Nyakatsapa, Mutare.
When did you move out of the country and what were your early impressions of the United States after you moved there?
I moved to the US when I was 16, 15 years ago. First impressions were “what’s the big deal this is the same as home!”
Please tell us a bit about your current family set-up.
I am married to a lovely Nigerian man. We have been married for almost 3 years. My mother and brother live in Seattle and my other brother and sister live in Los Angeles. My brother is married and has 2 sons. I have a lot of extended family who have settled here in Seattle as well.
How did the idea of auditioning for MasterChef USA come about?
A friend of mine and her husband saw a commercial on TV calling for Auditions and called me and told me “You HAVE to go tete Shami!!!!” so I went.
What emotions were going on inside you when you heard the words “Resounding yes” from MasterChef judge Joe Bastianich?
I couldn’t believe it! I thought, for sure, I had made it through.
And when Gordon Ramsay picks up the forks again for a second bite from your dish, how did that make you feel?
It made me feel really good I thought he was going to say yes as well.
What was the experience like? Any regrets?
It was one of the scariest things I have ever done in my life. (It was) extremely intimidating. I have no regrets whatsoever. Right from the start I wanted to highlight food from my home.
If given another chance to cook in front of Gordon Ramsay, what would you do differently?
I probably wouldn’t put the peanut butter in the veggies (laughs)
Has your appearance on a show with such a wide audience changed anything in your life?
Well, as I tell people I feel like a celebrity amongst my friends! I have definitely got some great catering gigs come of it…but really I’m still the same old me.
Has your appearance on MasterChef changed the way you look at life and why?
It made me know that I really am a good cook to have made it that far. I have always been a positive person and it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and I’m so glad I did it! You only live once!
What has life after MasterChef been like for you?
My life is still filled with all the love and laughter that I have always enjoyed in my life.
Shamiso’s appearance on MasterChef USA has won her many admirers
You are a Finance Graduate, working in recruitment and have this cooking thing going; how does that work?
(Laughs) Well, I can generate a great recruiting report! I realized very early on that I was in the wrong field for my personality. I will always be a finance geek but I love what I do. Cooking is my first love and passion. I don’t look at cooking as a job but rather just as something I love to do. Recruiting is my day job and I love it and cooking is my after-hours job.
Any plans of developing your cooking experience into a business you can work full-time on?
I have some ideas around a food truck and an African Fusion Restaurant floating around. I would love to see my catering business flourish as well. Having a finance background can also be a hindrance in the sense that I know that most restaurants fail within the first 3 years. I have run the numbers.
What does the attention you have received from Zimbabweans back home and other places around the world since your appearance on MasterChef mean to you?
Zimbabwe is my home and it means so much to me to have the support of my people. It was hard for me to get some negativity on my appearance from an online paper. But most of what I have heard has been positive. And means more to me than you can imagine
If you were given one minute to say something to a young girl growing up in rural Zimbabwe, what would you tell her?
I would tell her that education is the way to go. Don’t take no as an answer! Dreams do come true.
Tell us about your involvement with charitable activities.
I am on the Board of an organization called Roses and Rosemary and we do an annual fundraising for children who are HIV positive in Zimbabwe and South Africa. It is a wonderful organization and something I am passionate about. I’m also a member of Anakazi Business Network whose mission is to encourage and facilitate the growth, performance and integrity of professional women by creating opportunities to foster relationships through a creative exchange of referrals.
What or who inspires you?
My family inspire me. I am so so blessed to have a supportive husband who is my number one fan and my darling family who are always behind me. If I was to pick a person it would be my mom. She has shown me that love is sometimes all you have to give and I should give it BIG! She has taught me to be kind and treat everyone as you want to be treated.
What do you miss about Zimbabwe if at all?
I miss everything! I miss my family out there. I miss my grandma. I miss my cousins. I miss the sunshine. I miss laughing with my family. I miss the rain at night. I miss my people. Again, I miss everything! Gosh, now I wish I was there basking in the sun.
Ukama igasva, hunozadziswa nekudya