What first drew you to working in food?
When I was 18 and thinking about doing a degree, I wanted to work in an area which made people happy and was related to socialising and food. I considered social work, but studied Hotel and Catering in London. I then worked in restaurants, ran my own restaurant in Kinvara, Ireland, my own pub in Deptford and ran restaurants at the Royal Festival Hall.
Tell us about a memorable ‘lightbulb moment’ that has shaped your career.
My parents were really into everything being made at home and probably because I am one of five, we had two allotments full of vegetables and a garden full of soft fruit. After I finished my degree I spent a few years in the west of Ireland growing my own food and collecting spring water, which made me aware of how hidden things can be when you live in a large city – particularly our direct impact on the environment.
What does the Chair of the London Food Board do?
As Chair I support the Board and the Greater London Authority food team in implementing the new London Food Strategy. I also look for opportunities to embed our ideas into the work of partners including other GLA departments, local authorities, businesses and communities.
The new London Food Strategy covers big issues from food poverty to climate change. How do you tackle such huge topics?
The strategy is new, but builds on over 10 years of brilliant work – like the Healthy Catering Commitment, Capital Growth, the rise of employers paying the London Living Wage and Food for Life in schools. We want to grow this but also take bold new steps on the huge topics such as child obesity. In February we saw the introduction of the restrictions on advertising unhealthy food on the Transport for London network. There’s no magic bullet but this range of actions will help children in our city to grow up in a healthier food environment.
How will it help people working in food industry?
There are so many opportunities to create good food businesses and good food jobs. London’s independent food economy is extraordinary and I would like to help more businesses to pay the Living Wage and support new entrants. Food is also the perfect way to celebrate our fantastic culture and I want to see food used to celebrate and bring people together.
What’s a typical day for you?
As the chief executive of GCDA I am involved in running the agency. I can spend a lot of time in front of my computer, but I rarely spend a whole day in the office. I also run training, help at community events and even occasionally waitress - although I am not allowed to make the coffee!
What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?
So much of what I do is rewarding, from individuals saying that a cookery club has changed their lives to the first day of trading of a business we have helped establish. Seeing the pride and pleasure my colleagues get in being able to do the work they do.
What London food secret would it be selfish not to share?
The Woolwich culinary tour that only I seem to have been on - from Viet Baguette, to Kailash Momo to the Blue Nile and then over to the Arsenal for a few pints of Hop Stuff at their tap room.