Originally from South Africa, Charley Friedman is a talented chef and one half of the team that founded Growlers. Charley completed the Grand Diplôme® in 2015, followed by the Diploma in Culinary Management in 2016, before going on to start her food truck business with a fellow Le Cordon Bleu London alumna.
Charley’s passion for working with food has been present since childhood.
“I’ve always wanted to be involved in food; it has just taken me a while to figure out what part I want to focus on. We have a restaurant on the farm I grew up on and most of my childhood was spent in and out of the kitchen stealing pieces of chocolate and watching the chefs work. It is the thing I keep coming back to and I know whatever I do with my career, food will always be at the core.”
Once she had decided to take the plunge and start her journey to becoming a chef, Charley knew there was only one place to go.
“Le Cordon Bleu is the dream of dreams! When it came time to change my career I wanted to study with the best and for me that is unquestionably Le Cordon Bleu. It gave me a lot of confidence. Coming into the game a bit late, I think you need to make sure that you understand the fundamentals. Completing the Grande Diplôme gave me a clear understanding of how to behave in a kitchen and how to think clearly under pressure. Studying the Diploma in Culinary Management gave me a different kind of training, mainly how to take an idea and make it into something that I could execute in the real world.”
Equipped with the knowledge to get her started in the industry, Charley soon began to think beyond a conventional kitchen role.
“I met one of my best friends at Le Cordon Bleu, Lara. We started Growlers together, a few years after graduating. We had both been working in kitchens in London and abroad and we felt like we were missing something. Growlers was born out of a need for adventure and we were set on making a name for the food we loved in London.”
They decided to sell something they loved, that wasn’t already available in London’s competitive street food industry.
“We had many chats at Le Cordon Bleu about what we both wanted to do (none of which were a food truck), but we kept coming back to food that we missed from our homes and childhoods. We never discussed selling anything other than pregos. We felt it was something missing from the London food scene and we, more than anyone else, wanted to eat steak slathered in butter and served in a papo seco.”
Charley’s experience shows that studying at Le Cordon Bleu is not just about the knowledge and skills you gain, but the people you meet and the connections you make along the way.
“Firstly, it introduced me to my former business partner so that was a bonus. The chefs at Le Cordon Bleu were an incredible sounding board during our time there and after. We have Chef Colin Westal to thank for the introduction to our meat suppliers. Studying at Le Cordon Bleu is an honour - you are given a safe space to learn and question and grow – I walked out of there thinking I could take on the world!”
Charley admits that running a food truck business presents its own unique challenges compared to a more traditional restaurant set-up.
“I think you face the same main challenge when something is yours and that is that you can never actually switch off completely. With a food truck this is intensified as the vehicle itself lives outside your house and you are constantly doing something related to the business. As an industry it is very up and down, super saturated, seasonal due to the awful weather in the UK and you are always finding opportunities as you have no fixed venue.
"It is extremely competitive and there is a real price cap on what people will pay, regardless of quality and ingredients. It is very difficult to build a full-time team; the hours are very long, very cold or very hot and you are having to deal with customers as well as cook – something that can be the highlight of your day if they are nice or the low if they are not. Honestly, it is one of the most gruelling things I have ever done, but it’s also more fun than anything else I have ever done!”
Although it is a demanding endeavour, Charley pours her passion into the business every day.
“When we are in season it is full on duties in the truck. Off season is fewer markets and more admin. My day now is 14 hrs in the truck 6 days a week, doing orders and payments from my phone at Winter Wonderland. The most challenging aspect of the job is never being able to fully switch off.
"I’m not too sure what inspires me, but it’s awesome to be a part of something that is growing, and I think I get inspiration from other entrepreneurs who I meet and read about. I know that this is only the beginning for me as a businesswoman and that gives me real hope and inspiration.
"I love strategising and problem solving so the actual business side of things has brought me great joy. I am also passionate about recipe developing and going forward I would like a more hands-off role focused on setting direction and honing the product.”
- What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
"Just do it. It is easy to have ideas, much harder to put them in to action... so stop talking about it and just do it! You are going to do a lot of things wrong, and that is ok. Set yourself real and attainable goals, be honest with yourself and be kind to yourself. Don’t work around things that don’t work, change them and move past them. The most important thing – ask for help and find people whose opinions and guidance you trust."
- What does Le Cordon Bleu represent for you in one sentence?
"A safe haven to hone skills, learn and grow."
- Finally, what are your plans for the future?
"These are still a bit up in the air for me, but at the moment I am looking to move into another food related venture. I’ll keep you guys posted! You should hopefully continue to see some exciting things from me."
If you are interested in following in Charley's footsteps find out more about the Grand Diplôme® and Diploma in Culinary Managment, or browse our other courses by visiting our programmes & courses page.