He also had a big dream: to bring the food of their home country to Detroit. He competed in a local entrepreneurship program in 2017, and the couple won the $50,000 prize to help them get their restaurant started. They finally opened the doors to their airy restaurant, Baobab Fare, in early 2021 — in the throes of the pandemic.
The accolades have rolled in. In February, the couple were named for the second time as semifinalists for best chef in the James Beard awards, and in March, Mr. Mamba won an episode of “Chopped,” a cooking competition on the Food Network, and with it, $10,000. Now they are donating that prize money to Freedom House Detroit, the nonprofit that helped Ms. Nijimbere, and other asylum seekers like her, escape persecution.
“Mamba is what you want the rest of humanity to be like,” said Elizabeth Orozco-Vasquez, the chief executive of Freedom House Detroit.
Growing up in Burundi in East Africa, Mr. Mamba, 42, learned to cook traditional regional flavors from his mother, who owned a restaurant. She taught him to cook with his senses, not just by recipes, which gave him an advantage on “Chopped” when he was confronted with proteins unfamiliar to him, like ostrich and scallops. But, he said the culinary skills that landed him on the show don’t compare to his wife’s talent.
“The best cook is not even me, it’s Nadia,” he said.
Ms. Nijimbere, 41, is not one for the limelight, though, and didn’t want to go on national television. Mr. Mamba nearly turned down the “Chopped” producers, but decided to compete himself because he felt it was important to share their food and the story of how two refugees became small-business owners.