I don't come from a food industry or a business background, but I do come from a food-loving background. However, no way did I envisage that the delicious Indian home-cooking I grew up devouring would develop into a career.
Because no measurements are used in Indian cooking, the only method of passing down traditional recipes down was verbally. Therefore, in 2002 I came up with the idea for my first book, Cooking Like Mummyji, to provide a manual for Asian food-lovers that would also invite non-Asians into the secret world of Indian culinary treasures.
I was lucky enough to secure a book deal on the back of the idea and the book was launched in 2003. Many friends of friends who had previously not been fans of Indian food became faithful converts after reading the book and trying out the recipes as they found that they were so unlike the 'curry' they were used to. They questioned why such fresh, flavoursome and authentic Indian food was not more widely available. After having whipped up yet another batch of Aloo Tikkia to satisfy a friend's cravings, I thought they might have a point. I wanted Indian home-cooking to be available to all at an affordable price, enabling people to enjoy it whenever they liked. There was a clear gap in the market and opportunity for innovative products that went beyond the Chicken Tikka Masalas.
However, without the capital to set up my own factory, I decided to take the plunge and write a letter to Sir Terry Leahy outlining my ideas for a range of Just Like Mummyji chilled meals. Ready meals were getting very negative press at the time but I felt strongly that, if produced in the right way, there was no reason why the cooking and preservative techniques, methods and ingredients could not be authentic, of excellent quality and employed on a mass scale to ensure that heating up a chilled meal was no different from microwaving the leftovers from yesterday's dinner. Nothing should be added that you wouldn't use when cooking at home.
A few weeks later I received a call from Tesco and soon found myself in a meeting, surrounded by my dishes in Tupperware, discussing the products and my branding. I was put in touch with one of Tesco's suppliers and worked closely with them for months to adapt the factory process to replicate the real home-cooked taste, coupled with a funky British Asian slant and appeal for a more adventurous 21st-century palate.
The range launched in April 2005 to higher sales figures than anyone anticipated and has received much praise, culminating in The Grocer award. It has also attracted 67,000 new customers who previously did not buy any Indian meals. I am now looking to expand the range further and have many fresh ideas.
All of this is down to Tesco taking the time to read a letter from a young woman with an idea and having enough faith to put her family's cooking on the shelves for everyone to enjoy. So, if you have an idea you believe in, go for it 100% and don't take no for an answer. You never know who might say yes!