Cooking up a storm

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Edyth: “I thought I could offer something different – a cooking studio that offers fun cooking-related activities.”Edyth: “I thought I could offer something different – a cooking studio that offers fun cooking-related activities.”Edyth: “I thought I could offer something different – a cooking studio that offers fun cooking-related activities.”

Going niche is an increasingly popular approach businesses take as a means to differentiate themselves from competitors but, in one cooking school, the founder has decided to go the opposite direction and offer a wide range of services that boggle the mind.

That proprietor is Edyth Ban, a business school graduate who toiled in the corporate world for several years before she developed an itch to try her hand at entrepreneurship. “I felt something was missing in my life,” she recalls.

She considered various options and being an enthusiastic though amateur cook, she felt it would be nice to set up a leisure cooking school. That is, a cooking school for those who want to learn cooking for fun, not necessarily in order to be a chef.

Edyth did some research and found some ideas in neighbouring countries. She also surveyed the cooking school scene in Kuala Lumpur and found that there weren’t many leisure cooking schools at the time.

“Most of them were formal institutions where you attend to get a diploma or degree,” she says. “So I thought I could offer something different – a cooking studio that offers fun cooking-related activities.”

The Cooking House naturally offers cooking classes but since the early days, the range of services offered has expanded considerably. Among the variety of services listed in the company’s website are team-building cookout sessions, cooking parties, private dining, cooking training for domestic helpers and kitchen rental.

Cooking House

Cooking House

“Most of the cooking schools out there were focusing on cooking classes per se,” she says. “But I decided to diversify. I wanted to cover all things related to food.”

Besides what’s listed on the website, The Cooking House also offers B2B (business-to-business) services to food companies. These include: recipes development, food styling, food photography, visual and artwork development, media launches, F&B consultation, cooking roadshows and events management.

Interestingly, or perhaps ironically, the segment that plays only a marginal role these days is cooking classes. According to Edyth, it’s not very profitable to do so and there are always a lot of last-minute cancellations precisely because it’s a “leisure” cooking class and not one that leads to a diploma or degree.

Having such a wide range of services is good in that it gives the company a lot of revenue streams. However, it also means having to juggle a lot of different things. “We sometimes have back-to-back events and sometimes we hardly have time to talk to each other,” says Edyth.

To keep things running smoothly, she has different staff handling different aspects of the business, so they can specialize and be focused on the things they are supposed to oversee. So far, it’s working out well. “I’m lucky to have committed people working with me,” she says. “Many of my chefs have been working with me since we started this business.”

Although Edyth can cook and likes to cook, she doesn’t handle the cooking aspect of the business but rather focuses on business development. And she is always looking toward the future, trying to see if there are new areas to expand into.

One idea she likes is the concept of exclusive cooking tours that take Malaysian culinary enthusiasts to other countries to learn their style of cooking, way of life and culture. She also likes the idea of inbound tours, which brings tourists and students from other countries to Malaysia to explore the culinary scene here.

That’s still at the concept stage right now. An impending develop though is the move to a new and bigger venue. It looks like Edyth’s diversification plan is paying off and business is booming.

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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