If your bookshelves are lined with wanderlust-worthy cookbooks and memoirs from celebrated chefs and food bloggers, a career in the culinary world might just be your dream gig. Whether you love sharing your best cooking tips through a YouTube series or regularly whip up kitchen hacks that your friends rave about, learn how you can turn your foodie fantasies into a thriving cooking school. As the owner of Un-Curry, an Indian food catering company and culinary school, Kaumudi Marathé is sharing her best tips and advice for running a food-based biz with us.
Meet the Cooking School Pro: Kaumudi Marathé
Kaumudi has always had a passion for cooking and writing. When she first came to the United States in 1996, she was limited in the professional options she could pursue, since her spouse visa didn’t allow her to secure a full-time job. Instead, Kaumudi freelanced as a journalist for various India-based publications, all while studying food history and writing several cookbooks. As she cooked her way through different ethnic cuisines, she was also developing her a business idea for a cooking school. This school would serve a single mission: “to show people that Indian food was not curry and to share its rich diversity and history.” In September 2007, Kaumudi was finally granted work authorization in the US. Two months later, her dream business, Un-Curry, opened its doors in Southern California.
As the founder of Un-Curry, Kamudi loves that she combines three of her passions into one job: writing, cooking and collaborating with others. Teaching allows her to share her well-crafted recipes with eager students, and the catering aspect of her business gives her the room to share her passion for cooking with clients.
1. Learn the business regulations for food businesses in your area. Prior to opening Un-Curry, Kaumudi did her research into what the business regulations were in Glendale, CA. She took the California State Food Handlers course to get food-safety training and a certificate, which most establishments (restaurants, commercial kitchens, etc.) require before they rent a space to you. Lastly, she purchased business insurance coverage to protect her business from liability before she opened.
2. Enlist design-savvy friends. Since the food world is all about visual, stunning images of dishes, Kaumudi turned to her friend Uta Briesewitz, a cinematographer for TV shows like The Wire, to take photographs of her best dishes. One of those images turned into her image for her business cards, designed by her architect husband. She and her husband were meticulous about building Un-Curry’s website. She wanted the look and feel of her website to reflect her food as “modern, accessible, sophisticated and healthy.”
3. Create your curriculum. On the creative side, Kaumudi made a list of classes she wanted to teach, like Spices 101, Lentil Life and Meat Feast, along with what she planned to accomplish in each class. She spent a significant amount of time perfecting her recipes and gathering menu ideas. She researched A LOT of the ins and outs of running a catering business to learn about menu planning and costs. “I made up many menus and menu ideas for myself, but did not list those on my site, because one of the unique aspects of Un-Curry is offering tailored menus, created for each client based on their tastes and requirements,” says Kaumudi.
4. Source local ingredients. As an Angeleno resident, Kaumudi has access to quality, fresh ingredients and a plethora of Indian spices. Her class menus change based on the seasons, so the fruits and vegetables she features vary by the time of year. “My commitment is to fresh, local and seasonal organic food for my classes and catering — the kind of food I cook for my family. That, and the small scale of my operation, means that I do not buy wholesale ingredients at all,” says Kaumudi. Instead, she shops at her local Armenian and Indian grocery stores, farmers’ markets and even Trader Joe’s for fresh produce and spices. The only key ingredient she has trouble finding is curry leaf. Her genius solution? Planting a curry leaf tree with the help of a friend’s mother.
5. Answer important questions before you open your company. It may not be easy, but asking yourself these critical questions can be extremely enlightening as you venture into your business plan. You must figure out if you have enough financial resources to support yourself until your company takes off. If your business requires you to interact with customers, you should ask yourself if you’re a people-person and actually enjoy customer service. Make sure you know what kind of investment capital you need to get started. “I started my company with an investment of $500 and an Apple laptop that my husband gave me, so it was quite a ‘small’ business,” says Kaumudi.
6. Keep an eye on the crucial details. While Kaumudi thrives on the creativity of her culinary business, she also knows that to keep her business running smoothly, she has to mind the important, albeit mundane, aspects of her company. “Keeping detailed accounts and documenting all expenses is boring, but critical. Maintaining a mailing list is also important. Kaumudi tells us that, “responding to clients promptly, being warm, pleasant and helpful, is key to getting repeat customers.” She started a blog and hosts a salon every holiday season to feature new products, such as chutneys and jams for her customers to sample.
7. All work and no play makes for a dull life. Kaumudi knows that running her own business is more than a full-time job. It involves publicity, marketing, doing the books, making a product and constantly innovating. She definitely doesn’t advocate working Every. Single. Moment. After eight years of running Un-Curry, she has learned that she needs, “to switch off from work mode and enjoy my personal life. I’ve realized my strengths and I’ve also realized that sometimes it is okay to say no!”
Perfect Your Skills
1. Take Cooking Classes: If you’re located in Southern California, you can learn from Kaumudi herself about the wonderful world of Indian cuisine beyond curry. Take one of her fun classes, such as Spices 101, Exploring the Indian Kitchen or Indian Bread Basket to round out your palate. East coasters can check out classes at The Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, which offers more than 700 recreational cooking classes in state-of-the-art kitchens that pros use. No professional schools close to home? No problem! YouTube is an incredible, free resource for building your cooking skills. (Un-Curry classes and ICE classes start at $105)
2. Cook With Sur La Table: Turn your cooking interest into a social event and invite your friends along too. At your local Sur La Table, you’ll find classes for all types of cuisines and skill sets. Whether you’re interested in making homemade ravioli or fresh cheeses, or perfecting your knife skills, this foodie gadget paradise has something for everyone’s interest and expertise level. (Price varies per class)
3. Beef Up Your Food Design Skills: Whether you’re just experimenting with your cellphone or you’re ready to take the dive with a fancy DSLR camera, show off all those dishes you’re whipping up. Food photography courses from Skillshare can help you out, or you can check out some of the top tips from the pros. ($10/month for access to all of Skillshare’s classes)
4. Ditch Your Day Job: Career coach Michelle Ward walks you through the step-by-step process of quitting your day job to fulfill your self-employment dreams in this online class. Learn how to create a business plan, save an emergency fund and plug into your existing support system for help. ($99 for an online class)
What career would you like to see covered next in our How to Quit Your Day Job Series? Let us know in the comments!
(Photos via Kaumudi Marathé, Sanjiv Bajaj and Uta Briesewitz)