60 Seconds with Mandira Sarkar, founder of Mandira’s Kitchen.
I met with Mandira at her kitchen and shop right by the Silent Pool Distillery on the Albury Estate. Over a few Samosas, we chatted about running a business, the food scene and Mandira’s hopes for the future.
Mandira, please tell us about yourself and how you came to set up shop in Surrey.
I arrived in England 21 years ago with my husband, who came to study for an MBA at Warwick University; I was 27. I continually complained about the food here and so my friend said “Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is?”
I am not a commercially trained chef and so I learned to cook the hard way. I used to write aerograms home and received recipes back from my mother, grandmother and my friends. It sounds awful, but I missed the cooking more than I missed my parents.
When I started I made a vow to myself, the whole premise of the business would be to create authentic recipes. That was what I was craving and that’s what I missed. Every recipe we do is a family recipe; they all have a story. We started with supper clubs but very quickly realised that if you don’t have a product you don’t have a business. When we moved on to catering half the time there was no food at home because we were so busy cooking for others, so we froze food for later. We had found our product! Essentially what you’re getting is home-cooked, home-style food. The business has been running for nearly four years now and, alongside our frozen meals we do bespoke catering for large and small events and run cookery lessons and spice tours out of our manufacturing kitchen.
You started as a Management Consultant, is there anything you miss about your previous career? What do you like most about running your business?
The money. It took me the longest time ever actually to change my LinkedIn profile. When people asked me what I do, I said “I run a business, but I used to be a management consultant”. It was in some ways as if I needed to justify what I was doing. Being an Indian woman, you’re trained that way. No one educated would give it all up to run a food business. “She’s educated, why would she do that?” It’s not something a qualified person does. I started this in earnest about four years ago. I thought to hell with it; now when people ask me what I do, I say I run a food business and it is what it is. I don’t need to qualify it any more.
We are a very local business; everyone who works here is local. We’re not just a “business business” we’re very much a part of the community and I wanted to set up something that was very much at the heart of it. In fact, we’ve made a Silent Pool gin and orange chutney and our duck eggs were laid just down the road. It’s all about creating something very local.
I am also very passionate about young enterprise. We seem to have lost the art of creating entrepreneurs. It’s not really seen as an option anymore. How do we get people interested in creating the next startup?
What’s on the horizon?
World Domination. Conquering the world freezer by freezer. We want to be the go-to for Indian food. The future outlook is more meals, more shops, more online services and ultimately turning Mandira’s Kitchen into a food hub.
You say that you hate Chicken Tikka Masala. When it comes to English tastes, have you adapted your cooking to suit or have you tried to make us adjust our tastebuds?
When people think about spice, they believe you’re just putting chillis into the food. Chilli has nothing to do with spice. Mulled wine is spiced, fruit cake is spiced. If you want your food hotter, then you can put some green chillis on the side as we do in India. Most Indian food that the English are used to is not authentic Indian in the first place, 99% is Bangladeshi. It’s quite hard to find authentic Indian home-cooked food outside of Indian homes. Our food is made with local produce, fresh ingredients and no preservatives or gluten - the way mums and grand-mums make, and that’s quite hard to get. So yes, I’ve made English tastebuds adjust to my cooking.
As a new member of the County Club, what offerings are you most looking forward to most?
Whenever I have a meeting these days, I say to meet me at the County Club. I became a member six months ago, and I absolutely love it. I know it’s a funny thing to say but because I’ve grown up in India I’m used to a very colonial lifestyle. So when I go up the steps of the County Club, it takes me back to Calcutta. I think it’s a fabulous resource. We’re actually planning to do some events and pop-ups for the members in the future.
What do you love most about living in the Guildford area? Anything you miss?
I really like Guildford. I absolutely adore where I live. I vowed I would never live in a big city again and I like Guildford’s size. I think I must have done something good to end up here. However, I do miss the weather in India and need my heat and dust fix every so often.
Do you like being cooked for? If so, where are your favourite places to dine in the Guildford?
Yes, I love being cooked for, I’m very grateful when it happens. I’m a foodie, and despite what you might believe, I don’t eat Indian food at home every day! If I’m in the mood for Italian then Carlos Trattoria is great, if I’m in the mood for Thai, I might go to Thai Terrace. I try and avoid chains.
Any English food?
I’m very partial to pork belly and pork scratchings and very passionate about cheese!
During the interview, I sampled Mandira’s lamb samosas with tamarin chutney and left with a lamb, lentil and rice curry for dinner. I can fully confirm its deliciousness and would wholeheartedly recommend members to pay a visit or to attend one of Mandira’s future pop-ups.
Call, email or use our online form to get in touch with The County Club. We will endeavour to respond quickly to your questions, enquiries about Club facilities and suggestions you may have.