Ep. 4 — Batool Tawfiq — cooking, screaming and laughing.

In this video, you will learn:

  1. The recipe for creating a strong brand.
  2. What Batool found when she was lost.
  3. Why you should be yourself if you want to connect faster.
  4. All about The Prince’s Trust.


I first met Batool in a coffee shop on Tottenham Court Rd. She told me about moving to London from Jordan, her quest to become a chef, and the people who helped her. It’s a story of determination, resilience and growth.

Links

Transcript

Where I grew up, in a village, in Jordan – Jordan Valley. It’s 15 minutes walk from River Jordan. If I visit my grandmother, I will sit down with her in the kitchen. And sometimes she’s cooking and singing at the same time, so I will sit there – just watch her cooking. There is a lot of things happening in the kitchen, and I think it’s in every culture.

And do you miss all of that family, being here?

So much.

Really?

I love London, and I think I built here my own family, because I met so many people. Especially starting a business, and also being connected to your culture, even if you are in a different country. You know, being yourself and talking to people about your culture… for example, cooking food from your country. For me, it’s a way to connect to other people. Some people will find it “oh, I need to be a little bit more British”, but actually not. If you’re yourself, you connect faster, because it’s honest and natural.

There must have been something that that place didn’t have, otherwise you wouldn’t have left. Was it just opportunities?

Life? In general, because…

What’s outside the door.

I want to make the most out of it. I want to live my life, and learn, and grow. I will never forget it. And I will always come back. One day, I will buy a house, or buy a farm for myself. In every culture, society expects things from you. So my father taught me that “Keep going. It doesn’t matter what people say or what people think.”

If you believe in something, if you imagine it and if you see it, and if you think it’s right, just do it. If I do the same thing every day… sometimes you need to do something for 6 months to learn it. And I see myself as someone who learns very slowly. If I learn it, then what’s next? What’s next? I can’t just do it all the time.

Have you got a big dream, for what you’re doing?

Probably if I tell you what is my dream now…

It’ll never happen.

…you will laugh.

OK, tell me.

I imagined myself, three years ago, that I will do something big, like yesterday. And I had people telling me it will never happen. “You’re imagining”. And I said, no, it’s going to happen.

You know, I have my dream, and I’ve found something that I really love doing. And going through the options of how I can make it happen, and speaking to this person, and waiting for that person for months, to get a response from that person. Asking that person and this person says no then you to the next one, and the third one, and so.

Just persevering.

And also, now my business is not only about food, selling food.

It’s more of an event, isn’t it? And you can turn that into anything.

Exactly, yeah.

And also, you know, meeting people who are doing products… so I have a dream to develop my own products now, which is based on Arabian flavours.

Catering business in London, there is, for example, there isn’t much of Middle Eastern catering. There is Middle Eastern from restaurants. Restaurants, there is plenty. I will be working with a chef. He will join me. He’s from Colombia. He cooks amazing Colombian food.

Wow, Colombian, Middle Eastern fusion!

So basically, we will cook what we love cooking, you know, and also…

It’s just food.

Exactly.

It doesn’t need a name does it?

Food is great. Exactly, yeah.

I did archeology in Jordan, and I’ve always been in love with the culture and the history of my country, and the area. When I came to London, I wanted to start a career here but I wasn’t sure what I want to do. But then I go to the markets. Weekends, go to Oxford Circus for example, I used to see these small stalls selling food, and I thought “what if I start selling my mum’s stuffed vine leaves there?”

When you see a stall, and they’re selling falafel, it’s good, but I knew my mum’s one was great. So I come home and I think… I have these deep thoughts. I hated the idea of doing the same job every day, five days a week. When I decided I wanted to have a food business, I Googled online, “how to start a food business”, and one of the things that I saw…

I love that. That everything started with a Google search.

It’s true actually. Google.

I love it.

Princes Trust Business Enterprise Programme was there, so I sent them an email and I thought, maybe they will never respond. And I didn’t really know what the Princes Trust is, at that time. I just found them, and I emailed them. They responded to me in like two hours. And they told me about their Enterprise Programme, and I joined. It was January 2014.

When we started we were about 20 people. And I remember the lady, Rebecca, told us that by the end of the course, and going through the year of mentoring and doing the business plan, three or four of you will stay till the end. Because actually, running a business, and starting a business is not… the idea of it is great, but it’s hard work. And that’s why they advise people to do 16 hours job in a week. Two days a week, part time. I didn’t do that.

Right OK, to keep the money coming in.

Because when you start a business, you need money. But if I want to start a business then I need enough time to plan for it.

I said I had a part time business. But at that time, it was almost full time. I just took my holidays. Princes Trust introduced me to my mentor, and mentors, normally they volunteer in the Princes Trust. Peter Upton. He’s great. We’re still in touch. We had our first proper meeting on the 19th of February, I think. And I remember that day, I cried. Because I was like, what am I going to do? I don’t know what to do. Because there was so much information that I received from that course: tax and this and that and that and that.

When do you cook? You’ve got all the tax to do…

At night. Yes, at night. Because the first year what I did was just market research. the idea was to have a small shop, but then I realised it’s too expensive. I was so naive. And then the idea was a stall.

What does it cost to have a shop in London?

I think, I would say a minimum, a hundred thousand.

A year?

Yes. I mean, it depends on the location and everything, but I think it is a lot of money.

Wow…

Some locations are cheaper than the other, and sometimes you get some luck in some locations, but it’s expensive. Even if I had the money at that time, it wouldn’t be right for me, because I’d never worked in a kitchen. So that’s one of the things that my mentor advised me to do is to start a job somewhere.

And get some experience.

Yes, so the first place I went to was Ottolenghi. It’s the best, one of the best food in London. I didn’t even know… holding a knife at home, and cutting slowly, it’s one thing. But in a kitchen, it’s a completely different thing. It requires speed and safety. Because I didn’t know how to hold it properly. You need to do your fingers like this, and then hold it in a… so I remember, I was working next to the head chef, and she was watching my hands, and I thought, OK, it’s fine. I just need to show the passion, and that’s all. But it’s a busy kitchen, so they didn’t offer me to come again, because… I needed more practice. Maybe do work experience in a less busy kitchen. So I can get the basics of, working in a commercial kitchen.

How did that feel? You worked there for a week?

It was so overwhelming, because, you know, it’s something happening. It’s almost like, “Oh my God, I’m in a kitchen! Chefs! Screaming, cooking, laughing. Music there, smoke there. I cut like, ten boxes of aubergines that day. It was great. But then when they said, no they can’t, I can’t go any more, I was so sad. That’s when I approached Honey & Co.

It’s very brave, because if I wanted to be a chef, I would think, I’ve got to go and do a two-year chef course. You just go and get a job in a kitchen.

In three months, I’d done everything. You know, you clean, you do everything. Because I wanted to learn. How to pick parsley very fast. Everything. And in six months time, I start running a whole service. So I grew fast there. And I was still doing my own catering on the side.

Were you?

I used to do Supper Clubs on my days off. And also, Sunday, Honey & Co closed. So that’s the day when I do my preparation for any other Supper Clubs coming.

So you work seven days a week?

Yes.

Wow.

I remember one day, I had a small wedding party. And I was working at Honey & Co that day. Saturday, 8, finishing at 5. But it was a bit busy, so I had to finish 5:30. So what I did the day before, Friday, I stayed awake all night doing the preparation. And then, I hired someone to deliver the food. Because I wanted to keep it in the fridge and everything, to deliver the food at four o’clock, from my house to the venue. So as soon as I finished my job at Honey & Co, I ran there. And I was a bit late. By ten o’clock, I was done. So home, straight away sleeping. Next day, I woke up, like one.

You’re working seven days a week; you’re working full days; leaving at half five and going on to another job. A lot of people want the success, but they don’t realise.

I want it and I still want to do it but sometimes, it makes me doubt. Because especially when you have a social life, and you know, you want to meet your friends. I want to do this but I have to do this, and I have to do this. And you feel like, “am I doing the right thing?”

And you’re willing to make the effort, because you know it’s the only way you’re going to achieve your goal.

Now, especially after doing the wedding yesterday, I’m reducing the hours with my job, because I want to focus more. Because now, I think the goal for this year, is to do my business full time. The first year, when I was thinking about where is the right platform for me to start selling food, my mentor helped me to realise that having a food stall is a good idea. We found out about street food called Kerb. I contacted them online and I found Petra. Petra Barron is the founder of Kerb street food. I sent her an email and I thought she might never read it. It may go to the spam or something.

“My name is Batool; I’m from Jordan and I would like to have a stall at your market. I cook Jordanian food. Looking forward to hearing back.”

In half an hour, she responded, and she said, well, I love Jordanian food. And I called, and she emails me first saying that she’s going to be busy today – “next week”. Next week comes, she’s busy again. And then, one day, I was doing an English course. I was in the middle of my final exam, and she was free, so she called me.

During the exam?

Yes, and the professor looked at me. And I looked at him, and I said, please I need to answer this phone call. He wasn’t happy at all. He looked at me like this. And then I said, I have to go, I have to go. And I ran outside. The ring finished. So I had to call, and I was like, oh my God, that was an opportunity for me to speak to her. So I called her straight away and she answered.

Does she know this story?

I don’t think she… no. So what she said to me, OK Batool, I would love to try your food and we’d love to have you at Kerb, but what do you think is the best way for us to try your food?

And I said, well I can cook… I can come to your office. She said, no, this is difficult.

I wanted to secure Petra; I wanted to make sure that Petra tried my food, so I wanted to give her a time – a place. I told her, well, I’m doing a tasting event at the end of this month. And I wasn’t doing any tasting event. And she said… I didn’t even plan… I didn’t even thought… the idea was born in that moment.

That’s brilliant.

And she said, “OK, when is that?” And I told her, “well, it’s the last week of May”. It was the beginning of May. Or I think, the end of April. And she said, “OK, cool, I’m in London”. Because she told me, “I’m away in June. So the best time for you is in May”. I said, “well, end of May”. And then, I told her, “well, I’m still discussing with the venue which day. But which date do you think works for you the best?” She said, “well, avoid Friday, and Monday, but Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday’s perfect for her”. And I said, OK.

“That’s when I’m having it!”

Yes, and then I told her, “well I’ll get in touch with you next week and give you the time”. She said, “yes, let me know as soon as possible”. And I finished the call. Went to… finished the exam. The exam was … just finished it.

And then, I had no venue. No plan, nothing. I didn’t know what to do. I just Googled online, and I called venues, and community centres, in London, and they were all very expensive. The cheapest one I found, near St Luke. It’s called St Luke Community Centre, near Old St station. And they told me it’s £300 for two hours.

Wow, for a community centre?

Yeah, and then they said to me, you have to pay today, a deposit, if you want to secure it. And I was going there knowing if I pay that money, I will not be able to pay my rent.

But you were going to do it anyway.

I had to. I had to.

Because, all I saw that day, is Batooli’s stall in Kerb street food. And I lost my way to go to St Luke. When I lost my way, I found a community centre called Vibast. I went inside, and I asked them about the hall, there, and they gave me a number for someone called Peter, to call him. And I called him, and I said to him, “do you rent your hall, for events? My name is Batool, and I want to do this, and this and this. How much it costs, per hour?” And he said, “it’s £15 an hour”. And I was like, “sorry? Five zero?” And he said, “no, one five”. And I was, “yes, I will take it. Tomorrow, I’m coming, and I will pay you”. And he said, “don’t worry”. Anyway, I secured a venue.

That is amazing.

Now, I start thinking about a kitchen. And I wanted to invite more people, because I wanted the event to look like, you know, there is people there. So I contacted so many people to come. Obviously, friends, and friends of friends. And then, I found a kitchen in Hendon. It was the cheapest kitchen I found online. £10 an hour. And I did the event. At that time I thought, OK, 40 people came. So I thought, OK, 40 people coming. Then, OK, it takes me one hour to cook for two people. So six hours is going to be enough. More than enough. So I went there; I arrived at the kitchen at ten o’clock. Cooking, cooking… it’s 3:30; I need to be at the venue at 4:30, and 70% of the work is not done.

No!

So I sat down on the floor, crying. Anyway, the food was awful. Honestly.

Was it genuinely awful?

Well, for me it was awful because I cook it so much better, but I think… I didn’t know, that’s the experience. I didn’t know that when you cook for a huge number, it’s a different thing.

Yes.

But anyway, I pushed, I pushed. I burned one dish, but I took the food. There was food on the table there. I was one hour late, but it was fine. I think the food was OK, but Petra, I think she knew that I was trying very hard. So she did offer me to meet her after two weeks, and do two hours consultancy.

For free?

Yes, for free. Because normally, she charged for that. And that was great.

Was it?

A huge support from her. I am still in touch with her now.

Just two hours worth of her words.

Yes, advice. She told me about the best… she is the first one who inspired me, and helped me to understand, that when you establish a brand, you need to show a bit of your personality. Because it’s you. She made me think about, OK, the food is not just about a product that you serve to people. You need to tell people about where does this dish come from. Because I did archaeology in Jordan. And now I’m thinking to do further studies about the history of food.

Gosh, I love the way that it all ties together.

Do I want just to have a place, where people come and eat their food, and just go away, or provide them with an experience where they learn something about this dish> So when they go, they remember the experience and come back.

Batool, it’s so inspiring, listening to the way that you came from a different culture, and nobody here to support you; and from a Google search, you just seem to have made so much of your, of your life, and yourself, and you’re such an inspiration.

Thank you!

Author: Paul Ford

Digital marketing project director, based in London.

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