Selina Periampillai is the founder and CEO of Taste Mauritius, specializing in the moreish cuisine of tropical Mauritius. She hosts supper clubs, pop up events, caters for private and corporate events and offers cookery classes outside of London.
She lives in Croydon with her husband and loves a hot bowl of porridge in the morning with greek yoghurt and honey, accompanied by a cup of green tea.
I always had a creative side. Photography caught my interest in University. I took portraits of people, pictures of nature, pictures when I travelled. It was a way for me to be creative.
But after four years working in a photography agency where I was basically editing the work of other photographers and plugging their work, it started to feel like a desk-bound job. It was the same thing everyday. I was bored. I dreamt of quitting but my husband and I had just bought our house and we were in the midst of doing it up.
It never crossed my mind that a career in food would be possible.
I only started baking and bringing cakes to work in an attempt to perk up the office spirit. But my colleagues loved the cakes and kept asking me to do more.
I really enjoyed baking and it became clear that my job had sucked out all the passion I had for photography. I never bothered to take out my camera anymore. I usually left it at home and never did anything with it. My parents reminded me how Food Tech was my best subject at school. I was so excited about all the tasks I had to do for prep.
Still, it never clicked that food was something I could do career-wise.
I had toyed about quitting my job for quite a while but when I finally decided to hand it in, it was a spur of the moment decision. I went to work one day and I just couldn’t do this anymore. So I asked my sister to type up my letter and I just handed it in. It felt right though.
…I turned to baking
I had to build a business I knew nothing about, from scratch. I emailed those who had done something similar. I wrote to people I admired with questions and so many of them wrote back with advice. And the baking forums were amazing. Did you know there are over 60,000 baking forums in the UK?!
I started baking for family and friends and then I did a stint at my local Croydon market. My kitchen was still in a tip then so I baked in my parent’s house. At one point I was baking 16 cakes there and there were cakes all over their kitchen. But I wasn’t making any money.
I focused on wedding cakes next, setting up at wedding fairs and having tastings at my home but I soon realized that I didn’t have the patience for doing wedding cakes. I also got a bit bored of just doing cakes as well. I needed a bit more variety.
I did feel a bit like “what am I going to do now!” But I didn’t dwell. I just thought of what I’m going to do next? What’s sparking my interest now?
One day I was sitting in the kitchen watching my parents cook Mauritian food and I had a light-bulb moment. Mauritian food was great and it struck me that there wasn’t really anywhere good in London to get Mauritian food.
I wanted to spread my heritage but I didn’t have any money to start my own restaurant or cafe. It was at that time that I started hearing about supper clubs. There were only a handful of them at that time.
I emailed everyone I knew who had a supper club. They were so generous with their time. It was from them that I started learning about the legalities of starting a supper club.
But I thought who was going to come all the way to Croydon for Mauritian food?
But people did. Croydon locals came. People who had been to Mauritius for holidays or for their honeymoon came because they missed the food.
The best thing I ever did for my personal direction and business was to set up a twitter account. I started a food blog focusing on the food I ate, the basics of food, etc. I started it as a way to express myself but it opened up a lot of opportunities within the food community and I met a lot of my now close friends through that.
My customers give me the best ideas.
They asked me to do something in central London so I started doing pop-ups about nine months after I started my supper club. And then they started asking me how to make certain dishes, so I started cookery classes.
Each new move I made was difficult as you are starting from ground zero. But it’s only when you get out of your comfort zone that you progress. It’s tough but you ask for help and advice from those around you.
I have come a long way. From starting up my own business, creating a network of people I know in the industry, friends and chefs I have worked with and achieving what I have. For the first couple of years, I was making squat. But what kept me going was people’s feedback on my food. That sustained me.
When you strike out alone, you feel alone. You are stuck in the house on your laptop, not meeting anyone and you know you have to meet your mortgage. Your mind goes into overdrive. In fact, you are your own worst enemy.
On my off days, all I could do was eat cake and have some tea in front of the TV. But the next day, you have to pick yourself up and just get on with it.
I now love what I do! If I’m not talking about food, cooking food, eating food, reading about food, I’m dreaming about food…its my passion, I know now that food is something I want to learn more about, when you go that extra mile for something, you wouldn’t put as much effort into it if it wasn’t something you love or enjoy doing. When I was doing photography, I didn’t have that same feeling.
I think that if you are not happy with what you do, you will never reach that sense of fulfilment and happiness. If you don’t know what to do, find out what interests you, what would you like to try, get in touch with people in the industry doing these jobs and ask questions, meet up for coffee, pick their brains, find out about some work experience or volunteering in that area in your spare time to test it out before taking the plunge.
Talk to people who interest you. People who are doing what you are doing or doing what you want to do. Try and meet new people. It really helps. You never know when or where your next opportunity will come from.
I don’t regret anything. I don’t regret starting out in cakes because every small thing I did, I learnt from and it got me to where I am today. Nowadays I have a stronger sense of what I want to do. And I have no problems being selective and saying no.
Selina will be holding a Mauritian cooking class on 25th April. Interested? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about Selina’s upcoming pop-ups or classes, visit http://www.tastemauritius.com