Quit your professional career to work in food
By Zoe Perrett
That hot-property restaurant you’re going to set up; that killer cookie recipe that’ll make you a millionaire; that cookbook that you’ll be signing ’til you have hand cramp… We’ve all had those 4pm ‘quit your job and move into food’ desk daydreams. At FoodStars, we do all we can to make getting your business off the ground as easy as possible, which is why we have our kitchens to rent across London in key urban locations. So, these days, those food daydreams are closer to a reality than ever.
For an increasing number of upstarts, the dream of starting a food business has already become a reality. Anyone who’s made the leap will tell you to expect a lot of hard graft and a fair few obstacles to overcome – after all, the path to becoming a food entrepreneur rarely does run smooth – but with a bit of grit, determination, and talent, great things are possible.
As Asma Khan knows well. When the cook launched Darjeeling Express back in 2012, she had no idea how to launch a food start-up – or indeed that, five years on, her Calcutta-inspired pop-up supperclubs would be selling out The Cinnamon Club. But by cleverly building and nurturing (not to mention feeding!) a network of professional chefs, members of the food media, and artisan ingredient suppliers, she was able to learn on the job; ultimately quitting a professional career as a lawyer to concentrate on her new food business full-time.
Networking and skills exchange are often key in the quest to become a food entrepreneur. Spice Kitchen’s Sanjay Aggarwal initially set up his family spice business as a tiny retirement project for his parents. His ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ attitude when it came to approaching high-profile chefs, journalists and broadcasters rapidly paid off, and, through smart use of social media and the skills he’d honed as a dental recruiter, he quickly established a solid brand identity – and reputation – for Spice Kitchen.
Many will claim that your product is the most important thing to get right, and there’s no denying that Spice Kitchen’s are top-drawer. But if you want to start a successful food business in the artisan food industry, personality can be every bit as important. Accordingly, Sanjay’s ensured that he’s regarded as a bit of a ‘go-to guy’; generous with industry advice, adept at tracking down elusive skills and services, and creating bespoke spice blends for fellow small businesses.
One of those businesses is Fifth Dimension Chocolates, whose co-founder Russell Pullan quit a professional career in broadcast media to establish his now-award-winning business. Both he and partner Albert Chau are entirely self-taught chocolatiers – not that you’d know it gauging from how successful the food start-up has proved over the past four years. Fifth Dimension specialises in destination-inspired filled chocolates; each quirky creation named for a world city. The canny concept increases brand recognition; as does vibrant use of colour across the collection.
One of the latest additions to Fifth Dimension’s range is the Cape Town – a milk chocolate with a raisin and curry-spiced ganache. The signature spice blend was the result of a collaboration with Spice Kitchen; the final outcome from a number of trials which ensured not only that the product had the perfect profile, but that both brands could co- and cross-promote.
Quitting your professional career to work in food isn’t something to be blase about; but becoming a food entrepreneur is far from beyond the realms of imagination. It’s a path many have embarked on with both success and industry longevity (meet the FoodStars members), and it’s one that’s becoming more well-trodden all the time. There’s no magic formula, and there are many ways to skin a cat. Work hard, work smart, and learn from those who came before you, and you stand a good chance of making that desk daydream your reality.
Zoe Perrett is a food writer with a vested interest in Indian cuisine and fine chocolate (and blogs devoted to both topics). As Good Things magazine’s editor, she knows a thing or two about what’s going on in the gastrophere. Food is her business – and she makes it her business to spot, promote, and support the tastiest artisans and start-ups.
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