Chef Barbara, also known as Babs, previously studied at the prestigious Cordon Bleu London achieving the Grand Diplome (Cuisine and Patisserie) and is a Sommelier Fisar. She has since studied in Italy and London and once crossed the pond to work in Canada. Food and wine are her life and equally, she loves sharing it with others, so we got Babs to share a little bit more about how the Babs Cooking School first launched as a little home chef service and has since grown into a cozy cooking school in a brand new location.
Hey Babs, can you introduce yourself to us and tell us your story?
My name is Barbara but my friends know me as Babs, a nickname that started back at school at the Cordon Bleu when my favourite cuisine chef kept calling me. I love cooking and love wine and I am not only a chef but also a sommelier. I love the gym and I currently love spending time with my 2 dogs, Polly and Padme and I being the last of 5 children in any typical Italian family, you can imagine I was a loud one.
Can you tell us how you arrived at where you are now?
By believing that I could always achieve more, I never stopped studying and have always been interested in trying to improve myself as much as I can. I think that if I am where I am, it is because I of the act I never stopped. I never stopped working, I never stopped improving but most of all I never stopped believing.
I have also been fortunate in life in meeting people that have helped me. I have also met people who had taken advantage but those for me were lessons that I learned from. There have been people who didn’t respect my work. I treasure every moment and experience, the good ones and the amazing people that have brought happiness and those bad moments, bad experiences and negative people that have given me strength.
What were the first few steps you took to set up the Babs Kitchen?
It was a combination of looking at all the different quotes kitchen companies were sending me as well as building it from scratch creating my dream kitchen.
Congratulations on your new location, can you tell us how you are intending to bring something completely different to the market with Babs Kitchen?
My new location has an amazing view as you can see many castles, fortresses, olive groves, and vineyards. It is in the village of Gaiole in Chianti. I was lucky enough that both my sister and brother allowed me to use this small barn. I am hoping to organise dinners at my new location with pick up and drop off. It would be for very small groups and extremely exclusive as I can only host a maximum of 10/12 people. This is a concept that I will be working on in the next few weeks.
Can you tell us about the Babs Kitchen brand DNA?
Although I started in 2009 the name ‘Babs Kitchen’ itself was created at a later stage. Babs Kitchen started the day I decided to invest in my own kitchen. Before that, I would go to the locations the tourist we’re staying in.
To me, having my own kitchen felt like I was about to have a child. A child needs a true name. My child was and is Babs Kitchen. The day I decided the logo I was at Starbucks in Toronto and while sipping on my pike and drawing some ideas. The idea of the sac a poche just ended up coming from my hands several times. I then knew that that would have been my logo with the colour of red velvet.
Who are the team behind Babs Kitchen and what does your company structure look like?
I mainly work by myself but from time to time I do have my mum, or as I call her ‘Mamma Maddalena’, that comes and helps me. This year I will have 2 new young helpers Raul and Elena, for my bigger groups. I take care of everything, which at times can be too much for me. I take care of the website, social media, emails, photos, cooking, shopping, finding new suppliers and much more. Mamma Maddalena helps me when she can. She helps me also in the teaching as she was my first teacher herself. Raul and Elena are the new entries that I hope I can make feel part of this family.
How are you planning to expand Babs Kitchen?
The hamster in my brain never stops, it keeps running like she is late for dinner! Sometimes the hamster leads me to great ideas that are worth developing, others that are very romantic but not realistic. I have different ideas that I am working on at the moment and another project with a dear friend of mine whom I met at the Cordon Bleu and have since become amazing friends. I am also looking for a location in the Chianti Classico area, where I would love to develop many of my dreams.
The most rewarding moment in your personal life?
I have many moments but the most recent one is when my friend who has become very much like a sister, sent me a video a food channel that I was interviewing on. I started crying because that was the moment I truly started believing that dreams do come true.
What do you think makes a great entrepreneur?
A great entrepreneur never stops and understands the hard work and determination, and envisions failures as a lesson to learn from.
What gives you ultimate career satisfaction?
My career satisfaction is when I hear clients telling me that they have heard great things about me, it makes me like I am doing a great job. My job is not only teaching cooking or cooking dinners, making cakes for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings etc and that is why I am extremely pleased when I know that people are happy and will treasure the experience for the rest of their lives.
Can you tell us what areas you have struggled with the most whilst building Babs Kitchen?
The area where I struggled the most, was getting connected to the right people. When I started, it felt as if I had been pushed into the ocean without knowing how to swim. I had to really understand the process of how to get new connections.
Have you ever had a mentor? If so how has this benefitted you to grow?
I have never had a mentor and that is probably why initially I struggled. I took inspiration and guidance from the people surrounding me such as my mum for her cooking, my sister for her career and then my brothers because they were my Guinea pigs!
What outlets do use to market Babs Kitchen?
I work in the hospitality sector.
Which methods are you using to build your audience and expand your network?
In the past, I have used Google ads but for this year I am thinking of promoting with Facebook. I now have direct contact with travel agencies around the world and real estate agencies here in Tuscany who rent villas and collaborate with the local hospitality structures.
What is the best piece of advice you have received to date?
That when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
What is the number 1 critical lesson you have learned since building Babs Kitchen?
To never allow people to step all over me because I may have been afraid of losing work. It is important for me to speak up for what I believe in.
How do you create an evenly balanced work and personal life?
Balance is a way of life. I have had to change many things to find my own balance and I had to learn how to say ‘no’ and when to compromise.
Which other leading entrepreneurs and leading female pioneers do you also admire and why?
Being in the kitchen can make women lose their femininity and for me, I believe that a woman should be tough but never lose her identity. For that reason, I have always loved Nigella Lawson because she gives an extra spice to cooking and makes it truly sexy.
What Youtube or online space channels are you watching currently?
I don’t have a specific channel that I watch on Youtube but it is a fantastic instrument to access many sources.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
My favourite book that I have read recently is the ‘Italian girl Of Lucinda Riley.’ I have many cookbooks and wine books, however, I would say that it is most probable that my favourite cookbook is that of Luca Montersino.
What does your Podcast playlist look like?
I listen to a wide variety of music. I love Edith Piaf, Jazz, Latino and I have a pop music playlist for when I go for walks and for when I work out.
How do you measure your terms of success?
I absolutely love it when people, send me emails with photos of the dishes they cooked by themselves back at home. Those dishes are the ones they learned during the cooking classes. That makes me feel as if I am part of their lives and their memories of Tuscany.
What does #BEYOUROWN mean to you?
I think that #BEYOUROWN has offered me a great opportunity. I hope that this can be inspirational for other women, who like me, are trying their best to succeed in their careers.
Lastly, what is next for you and Babs Kitchen?
Babs kitchen is about to start the high season. From June until late September we will be working full speed. We will have many hours in front of us and each day will be a new adventure with new friends we will meet on our journey.