The first in a series of mini interviews - with some Women in Food who have inspired me over the past year in small and big ways. Either met them on-ground, or worked alongside; sometimes the best way!

Relationships, deep connections, evolving through conversations and the spaces you find yourself in are one of the most valuable things, I'm learning; in a world too fast - we may not be able to have a dedicated mentor or guru like old wisdoms advise, but we can find mentors collectively - guide each other, and take the time to listen.

At a time where 'entrepreneur', 'the gig economy' and 'going freelance' can often be overly celebrated perhaps we need to recognise that 'doing what you love' is not always the easy way out or something people have chosen. Maybe it's an act of resistance to grow new spaces for change, beauty and true meaning - not just for themselves but for others - outside of capitalist systems.

First up - Sareta Puri, "Chef, Writer and many other things". Met Sareta in the street food world a few years ago and, over the last 6 months, got to know each other at Made in Hackney. Sareta was Head Chef there, has been involved in the community for about four years and was part of the original team to set up the Community Meal Service in April 2020.

" I suppose I’ve learnt through practice, observation and awareness of what I’ve experienced and chimed with. I haven’t come from a traditional kitchen route, so have used my previous skills as a leader  and manager in Charity and Education roles to transfer to this setting" - Sareta Puri

The questions below are around leadership, cutting through the noise and staying grounded as you make your way. Sareta is one of the most incredible leaders I've met, in a soft but strong way and lucky to have learnt under her watchful gaze. The hope is to share some of that (with some photos along the way)... 

On Leadership.

"There’s a difference between 'management' and 'leadership' and I’ve always aspired to demonstrate effective leadership as that’s what makes a difference to people. I think I lead in a personable way. I’m driven by my values and ethics which I hope then transpires through how I work with people. I believe everyone is equal and want themselves to feel valid, heard and respected in my kitchen - or anywhere - whilst also appreciating the need for direction and structure". 

"I’m currently doing a leadership course through a brilliant organisation called Remarkable Women. I signed up more to be a leader of my own life and I genuinely think if you can nail that then you’re going to be able to lead people more effectively". 

On Learning.

I’m a self-taught Chef; it’s something I learnt along the way. I used to think you had to go to Culinary School or be trained under certain people to be called one but actually, like anything in life, we all come to it in a way that works for us.  My dad was  a Chef and he inspired me, as did seeing the power of food to connect people.

Openness and inclusivity is something I tried to create in the kitchen and in any other space I work in. At the end of the day, we all learn by doing, whether that’s someone sitting you down in a classroom and telling you something or you picking up a pen and paper, it’s the experience that matters, and you can enrich that in so many ways"

On Staying Focused. 

"Having a clear understanding of what I’m doing and why has had the largest impact for me this year. Through my leadership course, I set a life mission - seems a bit scary! - but if you have a core intention of what everything in your wider life is leading towards then you stay more focused"

"This doesn’t need to be specific like being the CEO of a business by 45. Mine is to make the world a more fair and equal place; therefore every small thing I do points to that - like working on a community food project, educating through writing about veganism and animal advocacy, working on resources around diversity and discrimination, and supporting small ethical businesses to grow. My portfolio of work might seem random to some but it makes sense to me and the impact I want to have on the world. That's the most important thing".

On Success.

"Success is really hard to define and I think it should be very personal. We can spend too long comparing ourselves to other people, or looking at stereotypical definitions of success (like mortgages, having children, career pay), but for me it comes back to the mission thing. I know that I’m being successful if I’m able to meet any part of my mission; if I’m inspiring or connecting with other people. That could be through making a meal, publishing a piece of work, creating a new recipe. I stay focused through bringing myself back to what it is I'm doing and why. At the end of the day, you're in control of your own life and your own success".

On Future.

"I'm off to (currently in) Sri Lanka for a month! To take stock and bounce back into 2022 to continue working on my mission. I realised that after a very full on - and rewarding - 18 months, I need to reset. 

I’m also about halfway through a diploma in Ayurveda Lifestyle and Nutrition so want to focus my energies on that and see how I can make connections between that, my yoga practice, and cooking.

Cooking-wise, I have a few small  projects lined up including a residency and catering - can’t say too much more about those atm! Plus various classes, cook-a-longs and definitely more community-focused work".

Next up...

Coming Soon...

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