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Maria Bradford

Head Chef & Owner of Shwen Shwen

London, United Kingdom


Graduate of:
The Essential Cooking Certificate: Evening Course

Maria is the Founder and Head Chef at Shwen Shwen. I was born and raised in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. I have many fond childhood memories. Mainly to do with my fascination for age-old African recipes. Discovering fresh, local, flavoursome ingredients and cooking for all my family and friends. My enduring love for the taste of home took me to that point, but I wanted to deepen my understanding of cooking theory, and expand my knowledge surrounding food, so I came to Leiths School of food and wine to satisfy my culinary passions and solidify a professional future in food. 

Life before Leiths
Like most African children I started cooking when I was eight years old, but the business began in 2017, having catered for my cousin’s wedding and having undertaken a few corporate events for my husband’s businessI loved dinner parties and cooking for friends and family and many people would say “You should sell this” or “You should open a restaurant”. I thought they were being polite but this went on for almost a decade and the penny started to drop with me. Perhaps I should build a career in food? 

What inspired you to enrol at Leiths?: 

Africa is the final frontier of food, and our continent has much to offer. We have plenty of ingredients to draw on and some fantastic producers, however when we look at the top 20 most popular food cultures globally, there is not a single African country on the list. I’d like to change thatEnrolling at Leiths was all about building credibility, making new connections, learning new skills and testing myself as I continue on my journey. 

Life after graduation: 

In 2021 I signed with Quadrille to publish my debut cookbook ‘Sweet Salone’ which is now available in hardback in the UK, US and Australia I was recognised in The Guardian’s OFM 50 in 2022, have featured in BBC Good Food, Olive Magazine, Women and Home, The Good Food Guide, Fine Food Digest, Love Food, The METRO, Kent Life, Resy Mag, The Grocer and much moreIn 2022 I won the BIH Spotlight award for African FoodIn 2023 I appeared on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch TV show in the UK and I have an exciting list of projects planned for 2024. 

Any wise words for future grads?: 

The culinary industry is both exciting and challenging, however to succeed your passion must be your driving forceYou must embrace continuous learning and remember mistakes are all part of the learning process. Attention to detail matters, time management is a skill, resilience is key but creativity sets you apart. Above all, stay humble. Stay hungry! 

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