Varsha Patel spoke to Harrow chef, Anita Kerai, on how she got started in her career and her top tips for other budding entrepreneurs on how to get started.
Anita Kerai decided to take a career leap at the age of 41 years old. She said goodbye to numbers and bland offices in her financial accounting job, and gave a passionate hello to the fragrant and rewarding taste of her new life. After successfully turning her hobby of cooking into a fulfilling career, which includes a TV series following her “Return to Kenya”, Kerai, a Kenyan-Indian chef who now lives in Harrow, says that despite setbacks, you ‘just have to push on’. Kerai spoke to us about life, her career highlights as well as her words of wisdom for those who may not have taken the leap in pursuing their passions yet.
Anita’s Kitchen – Kerai’s cooking school – has a simple philosophy: living and eating green. Now, you see this ‘eating green’ motto almost everywhere these days. It’s the core message of all juice bars and their berry boost blends, the expensive brunch menus and their quinoa-fueled take on almost everything. It’s also the first thing you see when seeking advice on leading a healthy lifestyle and even weight loss. So what does eating green mean for Anita’s Kitchen, and why is it different? Kerai is a green ambassador, and is working with schools to promote healthy eating and living. Ultimately, it’s not just ‘eating your greens’ as many of the mainstream campaigns may have you believe.
Kerai works with schools teaching kids about healthy eating,and uses ingredients from providers such as City Harvest – an organisation who collects food being disposed of as waste from all parts of the food sector, such as restaurants and grocers, and puts the food to use in a sustainable way. Kerai says that her cookery school, Anita’s Kitchen, and her book Flavours of Kenya also builds on this, by teaching recipes that reduce food waste.
Kerai’s close work in this area stems from the fact that ‘child obesity is a cause close to [her] heart’. She also works with Find your Feet and Healthy Poverty Action, which aims to support poor families – especially women and children in Africa and Asia – to overcome hunger and poverty. And her passion for promoting green continues in her TV series Return to Kenya, which aired on Amazon Prime in 2018, and follows Kerai’s return to her birthplace after two decades:
‘[The TV series] is a travel/cooking documentary highlighting and talking and raising awareness for preservation, conservation of Kenya’s wildlife, forests and nature. We have filmed at places such as David Sheldrick Elephant conservancy that look after baby orphan elephants), Olpajeta Rhino conservancy which is the home to the last two remaining northern white rhino, Mount Kenya forest reserves, Amboseli National Park, Hells Gate National Park and various other places in Kenya.’
In fact, Kerai describes visiting Kenya after 22 years and filming there as one of her career highlights. And another highlight? Appearing on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. Interestingly, this all could not have happened had Kerai remained in the league of crunching numbers:
‘I was a qualified accountant having spent over 15 years working in television and media as a finance manager for Sony Pictures and Kantar World Panel. Both my parents are amazing cooks, so cooking has been a fundamental part of my growing up. The thought of turning my hobby into my job has been with me since my daughter was born eleven years ago. So finally, in February 2017 at the age of 41 years, I took the plunge to turn my dream into reality. I realized I loved the buzz of working in the entertainment industry but I wanted to incorporate this with food and cooking and, most importantly, promoting healthy eating. I enrolled myself at Leiths on “How to be a Food Presenter” and Anita’s Kitchen was born.’
So for those who may not have taken that career jump, or are yet to leap into actively working on their side hustle, Kerai says: ‘My takeaways have been that you need to work hard to achieve your dreams and sometimes there will be a lot of set back so you just have to push on. My advice would be do your research and always have a backup plan. A lot of mentorship is available but pick the ones that will enhance you as a person and your business. I believe it’s best to give a try to see if it works than to have any regrets.’
By Varsha Patel