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Chef Shai Mandel | Toronto | Head Game!!

I have been a chef for 9 years. As a toddler I used to experiment and create dishes using scraps and leftovers in my fridge. I remember being very fascinated by the process of adding ingredients to create something new and better yet, but adding things together you can create something delicious! I have been cooking independently and writing my own recipes since I was 7 years old. My dad was a big influence re: my passion for food and taught me how to eat and appreciate the taste of food. Cooking came naturally for me and it gave me a lot of confidence as a kid. I used to bake things for my friends, and bring in my creations to share with others at school. Inevitably, I made a lot of friends because of it! As a teen looking to secure my first job, the culinary industry was an easy fit. I started working as a prep cook for catering companies, which led to working in restaurants, which led to hotels and before I knew as a young adult I was in fine dining developing 3 dishes a day and training young cooks.

Although I loved working as a chef, I realized this career was for me when I put my 2 passions together: 1. Teaching others & sharing my knowledge and 2. Cooking/baking. I knew I wanted to teach people, but wasn’t certain of what subject or even if I wanted to teach in a school. I volunteered a lot, and tried to gain as much experience as possible as I knew this was the only way to figure out where exactly I wanted to end up in the teaching field. I held a coop position in high school that confirmed my interest, which led me to Kinesiology and eventually teachers college at Laurier where I specialized in Science, Math & PhysEd. During this year I noticed many of my students had little to no understanding of how to cook! It was shocking and quite disturbing to me as I believe cooking is one of, if not the most important life skill someone can know. As a result, I started various after school cooking clubs which I ran personally. Seeing how much fun my students were having while learning, and how much confidence they gained in both their abilities and selves through the program, confirmed that teaching youth how to cook was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. At last the idea for a children’s cooking school was born, and I haven’t looked back since.

What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business? How did the idea for your business come about?

The knowledge that re: cooking was a dying art among today’s society, especially children, and the lack of educational programs out there to combat it. The idea came about when I was training new staff at one of the restaurants I was working at. I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed it, and then my aha moment came about “Teaching people how to cook”. This was confirmed when I was running after school cooking clubs during teachers college.

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

The biggest hurdles for me was the administrative tasks and change of pace. As a chef and teacher I was always running around, on my feet, working with my hands. As an entrepreneur, most of my current duties include sitting at a desk building curriculum and managing. I now know that incorporating a day or two during the week working in the field teaching is critical to not only my happiness, but also in maintaining my skills as a teacher and chef.

What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?

Most of the books I read are cook books as I use them to build curriculum. A book I would recommend to everyone is America’s test kitchen! Great recipes, but what I love most about it is the science behind the food preparation techniques.

Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?

I am very lucky, I have not had any resistance or contention from my family and friends. On the contrary, I have only ever had incredible support from everyone in my life.

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?

Building programs that EXCEEDS expectations. Seek feedback, listen, and make changes that will make your clients happy. Ensuring our programs have "WOW factor” and that our clients have a truly remarkable experience is the most influential factor to our business’ success. When our clients leave us having had a mind-blowing experience they not only want to come back again, but they also want to tell all their friends about it. Exceeding expectations is what drives word of mouth which is critical for our business.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?

Self care, time management & delegating tasks.

Self-care is critical: If I am to be the engine that drives this business, I have to take care of myself. Eating right, sleeping, taking time off, seeing friends & family, cooking/baking for fun, whatever I need in order to be in a good head space I prioritize. Time management: With a to-do list that gets to be PAGES long at times, managing my time has been critical in becoming efficient, but also ensuring the work completed is top notch. Delegating tasks: At first I was taking on EVERYTHING. What I came to realize is delegating tasks and reserving my time for tasks that truly require my direct attention was the best plan of action.

What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?

Being an entrepreneur is a major head game. The experience may bring our insecurities you never knew you had. Stay focused, work hard not only to overcome those internal obstacles, but also adopt a positive self-supporting mindset.

Have a clear mission for your work that will help guide you and remind you of why you do what you do.

Self Care!!

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