After winning a coveted semi-final spot on UKTN’s MasterChef, corporate career woman Liz Cottam has decided to ditch her six-figure salary and try her luck at becoming a Michelin-starred chef.
But without any experience in catering and any culinary training.
These two elements make the past five years – in which she has opened three Michelin-listed restaurants and achieved a turnover of £2.3 million ($2.8 million) – an extraordinary achievement.
Not that his success came easily.
“Six years ago I was 40 and wondering how I wanted to spend the second half of my life,” Cottam tells me. “Work-wise, I was flying high, but I just wasn’t happy.”
Although she studied art in college, her career path was anything but creative, so she started taking pictures, drawing, and applying for every passion that crossed her path, including MasterChef. .
“Then the most devastating thing happened: my mother passed away suddenly,” she says, “and the next day I was asked about MasterChef. was really.
Yet she had no intention of becoming a chef. She just loved to cook. “You are often asked during filming what you want to do after the show, and that was literally the last thing I wanted to do.
“Who wants to be a chef or even crazier, a restaurant owner? This is the riskiest category of start-ups.
But the fear of long hours, low pay and an incredibly competitive landscape, even for those who have dedicated decades to their craft, was not as strong as his love of experience. “They put me in a professional kitchen for the first time and something clicked.”
Wanting to prove to herself that not only did people want to eat her food, but that she had what it took to run a restaurant, Cottam spent the next year doing internships (free work experience in kitchens) at several restaurants, including one with a Michelin star and hosting a handful of pop-up events.
With growing confidence, she finally submitted a solid business proposal to a director of a multi-billion pound hotel company – drawing on her business learnings – asking if she could lead a four-month residency in the one of their downtown Leeds restaurants. And they said yes.
“But it was unbelievably hard. Full of tough, intensive lessons,” she admits. small part-time team and started working on how to provide a restaurant experience between us.
Unfortunately, everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong in those four months, resulting in a steep but valuable learning curve.
“Luckily the guests loved what I was doing and I was getting better every week. Despite the difficulties of it all, I wanted more, which was the proof I needed. If I was able to enjoy it despite all the obstacles, that must be what I wanted to do.
Its first business plan was created in January 2017, bank financing was secured in March, the lease was signed in June, renovations began immediately, and HOME’s doors opened in August. For rave reviews.
As artisanal cuisine reimagining British favorites in gourmet tasting menus, all of which championed local ingredients, there was simply nothing like it in Leeds.
Which seemed more than enough, to begin with, until Cottam realized she would have to do a lot more than cook good food to keep a restaurant afloat. And his teams were sinking.
“My team knew I had big dreams, high standards and embraced the hard work needed to achieve the success I wanted. However, each time my focus shifted from one part of the business to another , something or someone is coming undone. It was exhausting, incredibly frustrating and actually terrifying.
As she reflected on the situation, she began to wonder if her management style was at fault. “I admitted that I had done nothing at all, without exaggeration, apart from being in the restaurant for almost a year. I needed to think things through and I needed to feed my business brain to solve this problem,”
Without too much time to spend away from her team or her company, she began researching tools for success and stumbled upon entrepreneur’s “4 Hours” podcast series Tim Ferriss. Which turned out to be exactly what she needed.
“Her interviews deconstruct world-class artists to extract the tactics, tools and routines they use to achieve supersonic success,” she says, “and the first happened to be with Nick Kokonas, who is the half the team behind one of my favorite restaurants in the world Alinea.”
Addicted, she began binging episodes while she showered, drove and prepared food for the service, internalizing all the ideas and perspectives she felt could benefit HOME.
“One thing they all had in common was the way they did,” Cottam says. “They had all become sort of Zen leaders who were happy, in control with an unfathomable calm and managed multiple business empires worth millions, if not billions of pounds.”
By the time she reached Ferriss’ interview with life coach Tony Robbins, her next move was clear. She would invest £30,000 ($36,800) in an 18-month program to improve as a leader.
“It was a huge investment of time and money for me and definitely a huge leap of faith,” she says. “I was stubborn and what I thought was a capable businesswoman who had managed 200 people in the past, so getting help was uncomfortable for me, but I knew I was really struggling, so the desire to fix it came before my ego .
After four sessions, she realized that she was running her restaurant until she was exhausted; holding a microscope down to the hundreds of items in every process, in every department, front and back of the house, every day.
“Just describing it feels so intense,” she says. “It was extremely stressful for all of us and that was the source of the problems.”
Instead, she began celebrating the monumental achievement of opening her first restaurant — “and it’s so good!” – with staff.
“Once I stopped leading the team with that fearful mindset and started believing in them, empowering them to make decisions, relieving pressure and instilling in them the confidence, supporting them no matter what, everything changed.”
And not just for RESIDENCEbut The owl and CORA— the two restaurants she has not only successfully launched but made profitable over the past four years, despite a global pandemic.
“Looking back, it’s a monumental feat to survive opening one restaurant, let alone three. It’s so hard to do. The effort it takes to get them built, staffed in personal, market, comprehensive.Each feels like a long pregnancy and a difficult birth.
Yet with the group’s turnover now projected at £3.2m ($3.9m) for the coming year, his ‘children’ are helping all his dreams come true.
“The secret to my success has been leading the right way, on top of twenty years of business experience and some big mistakes learned early on,” she says.
“It’s a special way of living and earning a living. It’s the most tired I’ve ever been, my feet constantly hurt and it’s the poorest I’ve been in a long, long time, but it’s the happiest I’ve ever been summer.