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September 17, 2009

How Ren Patel went from city sack to running a cookery school

When Ren Patel discovered that she was losing her job, her entire world turned upside down.

"Not only had I never been out of work, but I was pregnant," she says. "I couldn't see how to get back up and running and felt quite hopeless."

But the resourceful and resilient 37-year-old already had all the ingredients for a spicy new career - although it took her a while to realise it.

Now the redundant office worker has transformed her life by running her own successful Indian cookery school.

Aptly named Ren's Kitchen (, it began in her own kitchen in North London and now hosts hundreds of curry fans desperate to learn her secrets.

She says: "I teach curry lovers how to make wonderful dishes from across India. It's all about educating my students about the spices through handson classes."

Starting off with just two or three students, Ren has expanded her business into a purpose-built kitchen in her back garden in Edgware, North London.

"My husband Anjay and sixyear-old daughter Monica have had to put up with their home being dominated by the business, but it's been fantastic.

"I now teach numerous classes every week, containing up to six students each. I also host dinner parties and advise local restaurants."

Ren and her sister learned about cooking from their mum.

"She worked, so when we got home from school it was our job to prepare food for family meals.

"Some of the chores we did were not nice, like cleaning, peeling and scraping. Now we joke that when mum comes to our houses we should make her do all that work out of revenge!"

Despite the fact that cooking has always been at the heart of Ren's life, she never looked at it as a possible career. She considered nursing when the time came to leave school, but after a week's work experience realised it wasn't the job for her.

"On my first day in an oldpeople's ward I was told to help an elderly man, only to discover he was dead. It wasn't a good start."

Instead, Ren got a summer job in the offices at Harrods department store. "I stayed there for 13 years, working my way through departments from an office junior to doing a management course.

"I loved working there - and getting lots of half-price shoes!" She then took a job as a business analyst in the City, got married and, for the first time, had her own kitchen to "play" in.

"I became obsessed with cooking for my husband, making three-course meals and working out new menus."

Ren was delighted to find she was pregnant but stunned to discover, out of the blue, that she was being made redundant.

"I was horrified. I'd imagined I would always work - even with a baby. I didn't know what to do and worried about money. I finally took my sister's advice to relax and enjoy having a baby."

Gradually, Ren's savings slipped away and she knew she had to get back to work.

"We had a barbecue one day and a friend said I should teach people to cook. I loved the idea and the next morning I did some research. That was the day Ren's Kitchen was born."

She placed adverts on local websites and within a week had her first clients, a mother and daughter-in-law who came to her kitchen to learn the basics.

"I was nervous but just taught them as if I'd been doing it all my life. They loved it."

Last summer Ren, who now employs another teacher, realised the business was so successful that she needed to extend her workspace into her back garden.

She says: "Looking back I'm thrilled I lost my job as it forced me to try something new.

"I couldn't imagine doing anything else with my life now - it's busy, but so very rewarding."

Ren's top tips..

  1. You don't know until you've tried.
  2. Work hard.
  3. Have good people around you.
  4. Talk about it - there's no point keeping it secret.
  5. Think bigger than you are - have confidence.
  6. Get advice from wherever you can such as Business Link at

Liz Thomas

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