Turning an adverse event into a positive business opportunity? That’s what Jennifer Akhaya, the founder of Bowled Over, has successfully done in the midst of a global pandemic. I had a chance to chat with her about her new business venture – gourmet recipe subscription box service, her passion for fresh food, new campaign Bowldly Black and her advice to any aspiring entrepreneur.
Q: How has your love for food and cooking developed?
I have been interested in food for as long as I can remember. I used to help out my mum in the kitchen when I was really really small and then it developed into cooking for my siblings, since I am the eldest of four children. As I got older, my passion for food developed even more and I would go into the library to read cookbooks and get inspired.
Then I did the conventional thing – went to university to study Business Management & Computing and got a job at a consulting firm in the City. After a few years I left and went back to college to train as a chef. Following 3 years of training, I found the Akhaya cooking school where I ran practical classes on African food. From Ghanaian and Ethiopian cuisines to Nigerian and Moroccan, I taught people who were curious in learning new foods from across the continent. In between, I was working as a professional chef in restaurants. Following that, I started working as a private chef for high net worth individuals. As a personal chef, I mostly worked in my clients’ homes but also got to travel with them across the world, which was very fortunate. I love my job and my industry, and of course I love cooking and food!
Q: How did Bowled Over come about?
I was working as a private chef for a family, but in May this year I lost my job due to Covid 19, as the client wanted to limit the number of people coming in and out of the house during this pandemic.
Of course it is not fun losing a job, but the idea of Bowled Over came to me as a way to use my passion for food and travel and to spread hope and joy through cooking… and through the story of how my business has started. Even out of an adverse situation, something positive can spring up. So this is where I am at now!
Q: What is Bowled Over?
Our main offering is the recipe subscription box which is ordered on our website. Every week, you receive a 6-bowl box of your three selected recipes. Currently, we deliver on Tuesdays so you get the freshest ingredients at your doorstep waiting to be cooked and enjoyed on that day. All boxes come with the right amount of ingredients, so there is little waste – all you need is some cooking oil, salt and pepper. The recipes are straight forward so cooking is easy and stress-free. I think it’s perfect for people who are working from home or doing long hours in the office – our target audience is busy professionals.
Q: What kind of cuisines are featured in your recipe boxes?
We’ve got Thai, Indonesian and Brazilian flavours at the moment, and going forward there is definitely going to be a mix of dishes from different countries. One of the aims of Bowled Over is to get people to try cuisines from all over the world and I believe that’s what makes it interesting and exciting!
With October marking Black History Month in the UK, we are launching a special edition menu to celebrate African and Caribbean dishes. The Nungwi Bowl, available as part of our weekly recipe box this October is named after the Northern region of Zanzibar. This East African style yellow chicken and vegetable curry is accompanied by quinoa and topped with our special coconut and herb garnish. Another new dish is called It’s Jollof Time Bowl. It consists of Jollof rice, cooked in a spicy, fragrant tomato and red pepper sauce, and is accompanied by fried plantain, garlic herb & chilli chicken and avocado. Both recipes have vegan alternatives as well. In addition to the curated menu, we are developing new social media content, including a podcast series, that will be Bowldly Black.
Q: What have been your biggest highlights working as a private chef and what learnings did you take away when starting Bowled Over?
One of the highlights has been a chance to work with really good ingredients. It is something that is so fundamental to good cooking. I was lucky to be able to cook with really good quality produce such as fresh meat, fish and vegetables. For a chef, that just makes the job so much more enjoyable. That’s definitely something that I have taken over to Bowled Over. I want to make sure people have really fresh ingredients to cook with – our poultry is free range, the beef is grass fed, and dishes are dairy free as well gluten free.
Another thing that I have taken from my time as a chef is that my clients liked to take care of themselves and look after what they eat. So with Bowled Over, I want to ensure that the dishes are plant-heavy and my suppliers guarantee the ingredients are top quality.
Q: What are the top 3 things that you want to achieve in the next year with Bowled Over?
My priority at the moment is to grow the business. Another thing is to ensure that the business is understood and people get what we are about. And the third thing is to ensure we continue to have a good team while expanding and that we run the business as a family.
Q: What advice would you give to an inspiring entrepreneur?
In the age we are living now the life of an entrepreneur is being glamourised a little bit. In reality, it is tough and challenging initially while you are trying to kick-start the business, so my first advice is be prepared to work hard. Another thing, which is something I am learning now, is to exercise some patience. Things do take time to grow – some people may have false expectations that the day they launch the business, it’s gonna expand really quickly. What is also important is to be open to pivot your business and keep your eyes open for opportunities. Sometimes you might decide on what you are going to do, but depending on the feedback you get, you may have to adapt your product or service. I believe the key is to love what you are doing and then it won’t be as challenging and you will persevere.
After my fun interview with Jennifer, I was lucky to try one of the Bowls for myself. On a Tuesday morning, my Bowled Over box arrived with all the fresh ingredients for The Rio Carnival Bowl, carefully wrapped in ice packs. The recipe for this Brazilian-inspired dish consisting of Chicken & Plantain Feijoada, Brown Rice and a lemony kale, avocado and red pepper salad was very straightforward and took me only 35 minutes to make. The whole cooking experience was enjoyable as I didn’t have to think about the amount of ingredients to use, all I had to do was to cut the items and cook them by following simple step-by-step instructions. And the food tasted AMAZING! The Feijoada spice mix gave the Chicken stew a spicy delicious flavour and the salad brought freshness and zingyness to the dish. I would totally recommend Bowled Over to anyone who struggles to find time to do grocery shopping and may not know how to cook, but also to anyone who wants to eat healthy and fresh food. Try the box for yourself by using the code BOWLEDAUTUMN to receive £25 off your first box when you subscribe today at www.bowledoverfood.com !