Mira Manek is a food writer and healthy Indian chef who has now revolutionised the perception of Indian cooking by bringing a new healthy, vegetarian concept to the table, incorporating vibrant spices and ingredients with healthy alternatives to create Indian food with a twist.
She brings together Indian-inspired recipes that combine traditional home cuisine with new flavours, an artistic reinvention of dishes that she learnt from her mother and grandmother, all interwoven with trinkets of history and stories.
Mira has launched a range of Indian-inspired products and works closely with Holborn Dining Rooms on their breakfast menu. Her Spice bites, Coco Fudge and Chai Chia are sold at various other cafes and delis including Raw Press, Rosewood Hotel, Department of Coffee and more. She also hosts a number of supperclubs in some of London’s best venues like 108 Marylebone and Grace Belgravia. Mira is also working on an Indian inspired cookbook which will be debuting early next year.
What inspired you to start a business in food?
I realised just a few years ago, that my notion of Indian food being unhealthy was totally wrong and that this was also the global perception. For most, Indian food is defined by the heavy curries, tikka and naan breads, but that is merely one type of Indian cuisine, and moreover, all these dishes are doused in excessive cream, oil and spices to enhance the flavour and richness of textures. The fact that I deemed even a little oil in my homemade curry as the enemy and would often opt for a low fat (yet sugar laden) cereal bar made me realise, when I finally saw the light, how important and necessary it was to change this perception. This is what got me started and why I’m trying to make this wonderful cuisine be seen as healthy and entirely nutritious, which it is and always has been, and therefore make it more accessible.
What is the first thing you remember cooking?
Baking flapjacks for cakes sales at school! Flapjacks are a firm favourite! What is the greatest challenge and greatest reward of being your own boss? I’ll start with the reward – I love the creativity, of being able to run with an idea when it comes, I love writing and working at night. And since I love to travel (for inspiration of course!) the flexibility of being able to travel last minute is a luxury I really value. Now for the challenges – I’ve always struggled with not knowing when to stop working, and not being able to plan, so while this allows me to be creative, I often find myself falling behind on the admin. That said, being my own boss has forced me to get organised, even if it did take a bit of time.
What motivational tips would you suggest for goal setting and managing – both successes and failures?
First and foremost, whatever business you start and whatever you do, you must love it, believe in it and not wither in your determination or passion. That’s the only way that you’ll be able to rise from the failures and not look at them as failures, but rather as stepping and learning stones. I’ve also realised that while the element of creativity is incredibly important in what I do and in many other businesses, it is just as vital to be on top of admin. The moment you lag behind, one week will roll into the next and before you know it, you’ll spend more time tracking what you did last month. I say this from experience! So make sure all systems are in place right from the very beginning.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in the food industry?
It’s a very competitive field, so finding, defining and really narrowing down my niche has been crucial. Having a USP in any business and any sector is important, but it is certainly very important in the food industry. I would say I’ve been very fortunate in meeting incredible people who I enjoy working with and who support everything I do… and who genuinely want to help me grow.
Have you had someone to mentor you through starting your own business, especially in the food industry?
I hadn’t actually planned to have my own products or work with restaurants – it all happened very organically – hence I didn’t have a mentor for the business side. That said, I come from a family of entrepreneurs with creative minds, so can always rely on them for the best advice and brainstorming.
What makes your dishes so different to more traditional Indian food?
Having learnt all those vital basic principles of my own home cooking, I apply them to everyday food, creating a grilled vegetable with a masala curry sauce rather than making a curry. I experiment with different combinations of spices to create wonderfully surprising flavours with unexpected vegetables like asparagus, and then my array of breakfast and brunch dishes like muesli with saffron and cardamom. So it’s the amalgamation of healthy Indian and Indian inspired, of using spices in novel ways and reinventing curries, and lastly of making Indian flavours accessible, easy and approachable.
What do you think the biggest misconception is about Indian food?
That it is unhealthy and heavy, and that it is difficult to cook! Both perceptions that I once had and I’m trying to change.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
A novelist – I have written a novel or two and still want to publish one.
What does the future hold for you?
While I have rambled on about planning, I still find it difficult to plan beyond next week (although I have an event in October)… I do want to do more filming and I want to use food as a way to relay the stories and cultures and life of rural India and the mesmerising breathing streets of her cities.