Look out for Ola’s food stall @ MaidaHill Market this Carnival!
Marine caught up with Ola Coker a chef at one of the Seminars held here at the Westminster Enterprise Centre. Ola has been coming along to the Centre for business support and will soon become self-employed, here is what she had to say …
Q Marine: How did you become a cook? Did you always want to? Is it your passion?
A Ola: I’ve always loved cooking. I love eating food nicely prepared and nicely presented I started to cook early. My interest in the healthy aspect of food is linked to the fact that I grew up outside the UK with many siblings. My mother was passionate about cooking and used to make us freshly prepared food. When I came over to Britain, I was shocked by the quantity and the diversity of food available but also by the bad healthy quality of it. Cooking is a passion. I just love cooking; bringing people together… I actually love to see the transformation of the ingredients into something beautiful. “I eat with my eyes”: food has to be tasty but the appearance is essential too because it is the first impression
Q Marine: What kind of food do you like to make?
A Ola: For me food is about expression. I eat everything, I try new things constantly and I love varieties. We have a lot of opportunities to taste food from all over the world and we should enjoy it. I am also qualified as a fashion designer and as a health and social worker; and cooking is like designing clothes for me. It is fun. Nowadays, it is a struggle to work and to eat healthy at the same time. Food is an essential part of life and a lot of children still don’t have the necessary nutrients. We have to learn to eat healthy to avoid big problems in the future. I want to make people aware and share my knowledge with them through food. My passion is to get involved in the community and make things change, as we try to do in the church by serving lunches, for instance. “If you eat good, you are good”. Eat healthy is challenging, such as life. You have to eat so make it fun!
Q Marine: Could you tell us about your work experience and especially your time in Harrods?
A Ola: I was once a Housing Support Officer. I was a volunteer for a homeless association for 2 years working for the vulnerable and homeless sector. There is a need here. They gave me an open corner, I could cook more and I was really happy. During my work, I was constantly wondering: How can you eat healthy if you don’t even have a roof over your head?
Concerning Harrods, working there changed my mind. I learnt a lot, tried to understand how they could prepare so quickly. It was good fresh food and it was fast. It is not just a question of qualification but also a really good organisation and a lot of others skills. Harrods was introduced to me by my college after the trainings… I asked them ‘please don’t put me in a boring kitchen or you will kill me’. I really enjoyed my 6 months there and I loved the kitchen.
I cook for free, I cook for money, I just love it.
Q Marin: Are you self-employed at the moment? Where do you see yourself in 5 years or more?
A Ola: I am planning to be self-employed. I have faced a lot of challenges in my life. Rather you stand or you crash, it depends who is there to help you. Time is the only thing that we cannot buy. I am hoping, I have a lot of dreams. I aim to have my own business and it to be successful, of course. Besides, I would love to have enough money to make a difference in the community, to sustain my family and to reach out to others. If I had money, I would especially develop the church projects. It is amazing when people come together. Educating people about healthy food and then cooking it can make a real difference. I would love to be part of that.
Q Marine: Do you have an advice for the people who wish to become chef?
A Ola: They have to ask themselves why they want to do this and if they can do this job the rest of their life. If you look constantly at your watch waiting to come back home, it means that it is not a job for you; If you enjoy it, you will last because it is a hard sector. Being under pressure is part of the job. When you are a chef, you have to try to make the client happy and to have fun at the same time. Always thinking how to make it better. Basically, you cook a lot but almost never eat it, you are just proud of your job. Besides all this a chef has to be really organised in his kitchen, this is essential.
Another important thing is to ask questions from people who have done this job before, as well as the ones who have survived in this sector and the ones who have failed. Fortunately, some advice is still free and each time I knock on the door of the Westminster Enterprise Centre, I find people who enjoy sharing their experience and to help. One last thing I would like to add is that the person who desires to work in this sector has to ask himself: Do I want to open my own business or to work for someone else? It is a choice. Personally, I would love to work for myself, to add my personal touch. I would prefer to open my own catering business, I would love to organise event catering.