Regan Anderton, founder of The Cooking Shed, tells Business Advice about leaving a city career to start a cookery school from her garden, and why winning BBC One’s Yes Chef competition delivered a timely confidence boost.
Who are you and what’s your business?
I’m Regan Anderton, the founder of The Cooking Shed – a cookery school and private dining company based in West Wickham, Kent.
What inspired you to leave your city career and start a cooking school?
I had my son four years ago, and when returned to work as a digital planning director from maternity leave, I realised that I wanted different things from a career that I just wouldn’t find in London.
I was driven by the flexibility to work my own hours, being able to pick my son up from nursery and read him a story at bedtime, and a sense of pride and achievement in my work so that one day my son would look up to me and think I’d done something that truly helped others.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when starting up?
Local councils and planning departments, and having to submit my quarterly accounts without really understanding what the accountant was submitting on my behalf (I do now…).
Being the marketeer, the cookery school teacher, the business owner, the finance director, the cleaner, the planner, and whatever other hat I have to wear on an hourly basis as a business owner.
What makes The Cooking Shed different to other cooking schools?
As well as running adult classes, and children’s cookery classes, I also run cookery lessons for adults and children to attend together – I think it’s important for adults to understand what children are capable of in the kitchen, so that when they go home they know which jobs they can do to help with making the dinner, and enabling them to spend quality time together.
I’m also one of the very few cookery schools in the area to offer classes whereby children get to make “dinner” rather than just decorating cupcakes and making biscuits. We’re also unique in that we pick a different country each week, and cook a dish that’s representative of that country – so in addition to learning a recipe, adults and children also learn a little about different cultures, languages, music, history, and geography.
What have been your biggest achievements so far
Winning BBC One’s Yes Chef, back in April 2016 just before I was set to open The Cooking Shed. As a result of the show, I had two different Michelin Star chefs offer me jobs, and that gave me a huge boost in confidence knowing that I should open the cookery school that I’d longed for.
I won my first contract in January of this year to deliver after school cookery lessons in a primary school – the first, I hope, of many so I can help to better educate children about nutrition and cooking from scratch.
I also won an award in 2017 at The Bromley Mum Awards for “Entrepreneurial Mum” – there were so many inspiring, brave women at the awards that I felt truly honoured to have been given the title.
Can you tell us about your experiences on BBC One’s Yes Chef?
It was amazing. I couldn’t believe the timing of the show and the opportunity so soon to the planned launch of The Cooking Shed. The only problem was that filming coincided with me having a terrible cold, and so I couldn’t taste or smell a thing throughout the whole of the filming.
I was so lucky to be partnered with Theo Randall – a truly inspiring, talented, and lovely man who uses the “nurture” approach in his kitchens and knows how to get the best out of his staff. I was honoured to have been offered the opportunity to spend a day in his restaurant after the show had finished, shadowing his chefs and watching him work the pass on a busy Saturday night service.
Will private dining experiences becoming an increasingly important revenue stream for you?
Absolutely – without them I wouldn’t make the money that my family and I need to pay the bills. The plan is to run at least one a month, with a big, all singing, all dancing adult and child supper afternoon over the May bank holiday weekend, as many of the children have told me they don’t think it’s fair that they don’t get to eat my food like their parents do (a lovely thing to hear).
It’s going to be a pirate supper in private woodlands, so that the children can go on treasure hunts and enjoy films after the supper, whilst the parent kick back with a couple of cocktails and some much-needed R&R.
Has social media helped grow your business?
I don’t think I’d have any customers if it weren’t for Facebook. Local “Mum” groups have been amazing as a way for me to ask opinions, shape and promote classes, and obtain feedback through reviews and word of mouth recommendations.
I’ve connected with some other great businesses via Twitter, and I find that Instagram makes me up my game with presentation of dishes so that I can photograph and share them with our followers. I’ve had customers attend supper nights from North London and Canada, and people come all the way from Dorset to attend my fish and shellfish masterclass.
Also, the reach and targeting that Facebook offers is something that independent businesses can really benefit from.
Is it important to you to ensure kitchen and cooking skills are passed down to younger generations?
Absolutely – I feel that for a lot of people of my age, cooking has skipped a generation. Parents went out to work, and instead of staying home with the grandparents and learning some of those valuable skills like my parents had, we went to child minders and play groups, where the only cooking skills we were taught were to do with cakes, biscuits and scones – not really a nutritious and healthy diet that would help us through our university and parenting years.
Nowadays we are all too reliant upon the government and food standards authorities to provide us with labels to check and look at, to see whether we should be consuming more or less of a product – which in turn has resulted in confusion, poor diet, and more and more people turning to ready meals and takeaways as a way to feed their bodies.
Who would you most like to partner with in business, and why?
I’d love to partner with Jamie Oliver. I think he’s on a mission to really make a change, and he’s done so much great work already, but so far it’s been with adults and children in isolation of each other – I think I could help to bring them together for a better, longer-term, positive result.
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