WeAreTheCity sat down with Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers, who is the Co-Founder of the Wahaca chain of Mexican street food restaurants.
Thomasina discusses falling in love with food, what she learned from the Masterchef experience, and addressing Britain’s ‘unhealthy working hours’.
Where did your love of cooking come from?
I have always loved cooking. I learnt very early on, at my mother’s side. I was not great at playing but I did love to learn how my mother made magic in the kitchen.
She taught me all those invaluable basics: how to make a simple but delicious tomato sauce, how to sweat onions until they are soft and sweet. How to turn even the humblest of vegetables into feasts.
What was the Masterchef process like? How invaluable has it been to your career?
Filming Masterchef was terrifying but I think it stood me in good stead.
When times are tough you just have to swallow and keep on going, keep moving forward.
It also gave me the confidence to leap into the restaurant world. It gave me the courage.
What advice did Gregg Wallace and John Torode give on the show that has stayed with you?
I think they taught me to really cook from the heart. I cook food that makes me happy, and I think it then makes other people happy. I think the moment you try to cook food that is not your style you start to falter…
How involved have you been in the creative process, menu’s, marketing etc.…from Wahaca’s birth through to today?
Completely! I am its co-founder and I am still a director today. Mark Selby, my business partner, and I are still 100% involved.
We are still an independent company owned by exactly the same team as when we started, looking at creating an exciting, delicious, fun restaurant business that spreads a bit of happiness selling the best Mexican food!
How did the concept for Wahaca come about?
I first travelled to Mexico when I was 18. I immediately fell in love with the food with its incredible diversity, regionality and overall ‘wow’ factor. I had previously thought that Mexican food was Tex-Mex but on that trip I discovered a vast cuisine that rivals Indian or Chinese in terms of its breadth and depth.
Many years later I went out and lived in Mexico City, travelling around the country to learn as much as I could. When I got back to London it was not long before I met my business partner, Mark Selby, who had also travelled around Mexico and was equally fascinated by the food.
From there Wahaca was born.
What advice would you have for female entrepreneurs’ wanting to start their own business/ restaurant?
I think whatever sex you are making sure you have a good business partner to complement your skills (and excel at the things that don’t come naturally to you) is incredibly powerful.
But being female I worked out early on that I needed some flexibility at work and built in a three day a week model which has been invaluable to me as I have become a mother and wanted to spend time with my children as they grow up.
I do work the other days, but mostly from home and they are flexible so I can see much more of my children than if I were working late hours in an office.
I think we work pretty unhealthy hours in this country and it should be something we address. It’s important for the health, growth and resilience of our children that they spend enough time with their parents and relatives as they grow up.
What’s an average day like you?
No day is ever the same. At the moment I am flying to Tulum to see Rene Redzepi’s interpretation of Mexican food. Another day I will be developing recipes for the Wahaca menus.
Another I will be writing my column, or cooking with other chefs for charity events or spending time looking for new exciting ideas and ingredients to put on our menus at Wahaca.
Our food at Wahaca is amazing. I can hold my head up high and shout this from the rooftops because I believe it is true. Some people presume that because we have more sites now that our food has dumbed down but it is simply not true. If anything it’s better!
What would you like to change in the food industry?
I would get the government to build more affordable housing. My staff are in the grips of a housing crisis.
They can’t afford to live in central London and then spend a large part of their wages on our very expensive transport system to travel into work from where they live, far, far out. I have heard some horror stories about how landlords behave because they are working in an environment with not enough supply so have the advantage (and I speak as a landlord myself). It is becoming a serious problem.
I do not see how we are going to be able to keep our hospitals, schools and restaurants open if London continues to be so unaffordable.
What conversation does there need to be in business today?
The government should be more supportive of our industry which was one of the few success stories of the global recession. Our industry has continued to grow, employing and training a workforce. If the rates and rents continue to rise so rapidly though there are going to be many victims in our sector which will not help the health of our economy.
What can we look out for from you in the future?
More exciting food! Whether in my books, my column or in Wahaca. I am so excited by food right now.