Detroit newcomer Baobab Fare won Food Network’s Chopped Tuesday night, bringing home $10,000 in winnings.
“It feels great. It’s an honor for me and for Detroit and for Burundi, my country,” said Hamissi Mamba, co-owner of Baobab Fare, an East African restaurant in New Center.
Mamba competed against three other chefs in three rounds: appetizer, entrée, and dessert. For each round the chefs were given a basket of random items to make a meal out of in hopes of impressing the judges, or face getting “chopped” from the competition.
In the first challenge, the contestants had to make an appetizer using fried gluten with peanuts, scallops, chai latte, and leeks. Despite never cooking with scallops before, Mamba made a scallop and leek taco with a chai sauce that one judge called “shocking” and said they were “blown away.”
Mamba progressed to the next round where contestants were given beef stroganoff tacos, winter truffles, bloody mary olives, and ostrich meat. Again, Mamba was unfamiliar with some of the items.
“Everything – all of the ingredients I had in my basket I was not familiar with,” Mamba told BridgeDetroit, explaining that ingredients like scallops and sugar are expensive in Burundi, so he didn’t have as much experience cooking with them.
Even so, Mamba breezed by with his first two concoctions, before facing trouble in the dessert round. With just a few minutes left on the clock, he burned the thin flat bread, chapati, he was using to make dessert.
Despite the hiccup, Mamba won the last round, and the entire competition, with tears of happiness in his eyes.
“This win is not only for me, it’s for my wife, my daughters and for the refugees that are coming to this country to start a new life,” he said.
Mamba and his wife Nadia Nijimbere are refugees who came to the United States seeking asylum a decade ago. The couple started Baobab Fare as a pop-up before opening their brick and mortar location in 2021, specializing in dishes like flash fried fish, eggplant stew, and slow roasted goat shank alongside plantain and rice.
Mamba said he is donating his Chopped winnings to the Detroit shelter where Nijimbere stayed when she first came to Detroit, Freedom House Detroit. The money will go to repairing the organization’s kitchen which feeds 50 people each day. The other half of his money will go to Burundi Kids.
Elizabeth Orozco-Vasquez, chief executive officer of Freedom House, said that her organization was “humbled, but not surprised” Mamba was donating money to her organization, in a press release.
“This is the kind of generosity that Mamba and Nadia share with everyone they encounter,” she said. “Mamba and Nadia know that at the heart of any great operation is a well-nourished soul and that nourishment starts in the kitchen.”
With the win, Mamba said he hopes to “open the door for other immigrants and refugees to show them that this is a country where everyone can touch their dreams.”
The episode aired Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. EST on Food Network. The episode will reair Thursday March 2 at 10 a.m. and Tuesday March 14 at 7 p.m. on Food Network.