Le Cordon Bleu London alumna, Ruth Christianson, is the chef entrepreneur behind Colombian street food, catering and pop-up restaurant business, Maize Blaze. Ruth took some time away from running her busy Camden based company to speak to us.
After completing her AS levels, Ruth decided to pursue a career in catering. Ruth got her Basic Cuisine Certificate at Le Cordon Bleu London before taking on the role of Chef de Partie at Coq d’Argent. After a few years in this role she returned to Le Cordon Bleu to continue her training, completing the Diplôme de Pâtisserie in 2006.
“I really wanted to do something creative and immediate. What I’ve always loved about cooking is the instant feedback: you create it, present it beautifully and then get to stand back and appreciate its beauty via all the senses almost immediately, compared with any other industry. I think this really appealed to me and gave it more weight than other avenues I may have taken at the time.
“I chose Le Cordon Bleu because I felt it would be important to learn the basic building blocks of cooking, a bit like learning your scales before learning to play a piece of music. I also really like French food and it has a wonderful reputation.”
Training with Le Cordon Bleu London set her up with the knowledge and confidence she needed to work with different ingredients and techniques.
“I think having a strong understanding of how different ingredients work together and having strong technical skills allows you to commit the more technical to a type of muscle memory and that frees you up to enjoy the flow of a good service or the creativity of designing a new item.”
Following several years working in restaurants, Ruth decided to take the plunge and start her own business, keen to use her skills to share traditional Colombian flavours with the people of London. She started out prepping at home and transporting empanadas to Camden Market, but slowly started hiring staff and trading in different locations, learning all the time what Colombian items customers preferred.
“I started Maize Blaze in order to popularize Colombian food in the UK and to make it more accessible to a wider range of dietary requirements and tastes, whilst still evoking the flavours and essence of Colombian cuisine. I still cook to develop or improve recipes or when we are launching a new location (all hands on deck!) but I am more involved in the structural and business development side of things now in order to keep expanding and improving the efficiency of the company as a whole so we can expand successfully.”
Running a successful catering operation involves a lot more than just food, and Ruth has found more of her time being dedicated to managing the business than cooking.
“I try to exercise daily as I find this helps me to stay more focused, especially during stressful periods. So, a run or 10 minute workout at home, a morning checking through the sales data, answering emails, timetabling, travelling to one of the sites to check everything is ok, asking staff for feedback or problems, having a meal prepared for me and if there’s anything that needs a bit of work having a chat with the staff about how we could improve it, check in with PR and marketing for blogger bookings, interviews or news, explore new site viability, learn more about restaurant reporting, try to improve our systems, create forecasts, pay bills – a mixture of all the above, depending on how much time I have and what is most pressing that day. It can vary greatly day to day, from quite physically active to more laptop based.”
As with her day-to-day activities, the challenges presented when running a growing business can vary, and Ruth is still figuring out the best ways to manage the operational side of things. As her business grows, she is making plans for how she can streamline her systems.
“At the moment I’m finding the reporting side of my business particularly challenging as we’re using different reporting or POS platforms on each site, plus Xero for bookkeeping and tracking everything at a granular level is quite difficult as I’m having to do it manually which is very time consuming and confusing. I am working on getting one system to feed all the data into and I’ve hired a consultant to help me as it’s not an area that I have much experience in.”
Fortunately, Ruth has a fantastic team to support her in running and expanding her business, and she is particularly passionate about the people she works with.
“I couldn’t do what I do without the amazing people I work with. I am very lucky to have committed and positive team members who I encourage to be open communicators so we can all work together to make running the business smoother and more enjoyable for everyone involved. I am passionate about quality of life and I think this feeds through to my management style, the hours I expect my staff to work and holiday flexibility. We all work together to make sure everyone is happy and able to live the lives they want to live.”
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
"I would say do your research, find a mentor and don’t underestimate the amount of work that goes into the running of the business outside of cooking. I’d also say that it takes time to figure out what works so don’t be disheartened in the first six months. Keep pushing forward when things go wrong and try not to take it personally, just keep improving."
In short, what does Le Cordon Bleu represent for you?
Maize Blaze currently have a kiosk in Camden Market and a kitchen residency at Howling Hops' Tank Bar in Hackney Wick, as well as being available on Deliveroo (depending on location).
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