Jojo’s initial career aspirations were to be involved in a managerial role in a Biotech company. A gap year before university gave him time to think and find out what his interests were. He worked in London for a while and travelled around South America, and as the year went on he started to realise a corporate life might not be for him, and decided to change direction.
Jojo is now co-founder (with Ben, a friend from university) of Nomad Cooks, a platform aspiring to be a ‘LinkedIn’ for the catering and hospitality industry.
What does Nomad Cooks do?
We let you find and book a chef to come and cook in your home, for the price of eating at a restaurant. Choose from over 50 chefs online, chat with your favourite to design a perfect menu, they’ll come to your home with the ingredients, cook, serve and even do the washing up! We have people who cook plant-based-only menus, Asian, British, Cypriot to Italian and more. They cater for specific dietary requirements and can bring specialist equipment if needed.
Where does your enjoyment of cooking come from?
I didn’t start cooking until during a gap year when I did a ski season managing a 9-man chalet. I had zero experience before that so definitely went in at the deep end. Luckily, I got the hang of it pretty quickly, and was crowned winner of ‘chalet host for the season’ for the resort!
After my gap year I went to Durham university, and to make extra cash started to cook for people in their homes, and at some shooting lodges in the local areas.
What was the inspiration for Nomad Cooks?
In my first-year summer holidays, I had a job, in Portugal, with an agency where you were sent to cook a meal in people’s homes. This was when I realised the experience of a freelance chef wasn’t up to much. I would be sent out to people’s houses with a menu to cook, the client wouldn’t know who was coming, there was no opportunity to create a bespoke menu that the client might prefer, on top of which I was paid very little.
I thought that the experience could be made cheaper, more convenient and better if chefs were online and you ‘cut out the middleman’.
What did you do next?
In my second year, I made the conscious decision not to do an internship which is what most people opt for, instead, I tested out my idea by working full-time for 3 months to validate if this was something I could do after university, or not. It was low risk; if didn’t work out it gave me something to chat about, if it did, it could lead to something more exciting than a corporate job.
I began by cooking off a PDF menu for family friends, put in out on Facebook groups for local communities in London. Then I asked five mates, who had been cooking with me in Portugal, to do the same. This allowed me to figure out how the process would work, trialling being an agency. It didn’t cost anything to test as you only buy in food once you have a booking, and then you cook on the client’s premises.
Did this interrupt your studies at university?
No, biology was still my main focus. I finished my degree and worked out how to juggle the two (surprised myself by getting a 1st!).
Given that you achieved a 1st Class Honours, how did your parents view your decision?
They were supportive. I’m the youngest of four boys so they’ve seen a lot! If I’d been the eldest may they would have been a lot more worried.
In Spring 2018, I spent a few weeks as an intern with BP. It made me realise I didn’t fit into an office environment particularly well, and I was getting more excited thinking about what I was doing on the side.
When did Nomad Cooks get up and running?
We officially started in summer of 2020, a bad time to start a company perhaps! But equally, people were nervous about eating out and Nomad Cooks meant you could have a private chef in your own home for restaurant prices.
It also gave me time to enrol on the NEF Fast Track programme which is the UK’s leading entrepreneurial talent accelerator. Every year the program accepts 30 UK-based entrepreneurs and supports them through the process of launching a start-up. It’s a bit like a grad scheme. It gave me a really good cadence throughout the year and upskilled me. You have a session with a business expert who sets a challenge, financial modelling, product-market fit etc and then you pitch your findings. I can recommend it.
How is business doing?
It’s going well, the last few months have been exciting. We’re seeing more people use us, last week we had over 30 clients. We have 50+ chefs’ profiles on the website, and we’ve been doing pop-up events in London.
We want to start raising money, going out to speak to investors, with the intention to grow and invest in marketing.
In a few years’ time I would like to think Nomad Cooks was going strong, that we were the standard for the online presence for chefs, and a strong force for encouraging fair pay. Restaurants are struggling for chefs at the moment and there are plenty of vacancies, wouldn’t it be easier, and a more reliable income, for chefs to work in a restaurant?
As we have chef profiles and reviews online, we are thinking of how to get restaurants to hire them but working as a private chef you get paid 3 times more than in a restaurant.
I have been thinking about the gig economy, Uber, Airbnb, Deliveroo models, and about chef employment in general. Restaurants struggle to find chefs, who are notoriously for moving about a lot, particularly if they are using the job as a means to travel, or they just get bored, or don’t like the kitchen etc. In addition, there isn’t a set standard for a review system for chefs, paper CVs don’t account for much, reference checking is difficulty, plus chefs aren’t paid much. If I could do something that allowed transparency in the chef employment market that would be pretty big.
For now, we are focusing on building the private chef freelance business first and will come back to providing chefs for restaurants. Eventually, we would like to encourage a more flexible working schedule – a hybrid model.
How much time do you spend running the agency vs cooking?
I spend most of my time building features for the website and recruiting new chefs. This means I don’t get to do much cooking; I should be doing more really!
Did you ever get the chance to cook at Radley?
Unfortunately, no, I made the odd pasta meal but nothing special! It’s a shame Radley doesn’t provide the opportunity, even casually, it would be interesting to see what the uptake would be.
To find out more about Nomad Cooks, or fancy booking one for yourself, visit their website.