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#MadeAtLeiths: Sarah Ainsworth on leaving the NHS to set up a vegan and vegetarian catering company

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#MadeAtLeiths: Sarah Ainsworth on leaving the NHS to set up a vegan and vegetarian catering company

2017 was the start of Sarah's new venture, and as it grows, so does her passion for making great tasting vegetarian and vegan food.

My friend and business partner Alison and I met over 30 years ago, when both of us were working as health visitors in Camden. Within a few months of me leaving health visiting for a job as a Genetic Counsellor at Guys Hospital, Alison followed on, joining me at Guys. We shared an office and often found ourselves chatting about what we would do when we left the NHS.

We both love cooking and having brought up our families on home cooked food, so we felt that we should try and see if that love could be developed into a career. We decided to start off with a food stall at the Ludlow Food Festival in May 2017 to test the water. In September 2017, I started the Evening Essential Course at Leiths alongside my day job. Then in November 2017, Alison left the NHS to spend the winter hosting a chalet in France with her husband. When she returned, we started to make serious plans to set up our business, with me leaving the NHS in December 2018.

I decided to take the Leiths course as I wanted to gain more confidence in my cooking, as well as having a qualification from a prestigious school. I went to the open evening in June 2017, which I loved. I left to have a think about it, then ran back to the office to put down a deposit on the course almost immediately! I knew that I just had to do this, and I did not wish to miss the chance of a place. I was feeling nervous as I knew I would be one of the oldest (if not the oldest) on the course, but the person I met at my interview had been very reassuring about this.

I really enjoyed the course – the teachers were fantastic, the facilities and atmosphere great, and the fellow students all good fun to be with. The hardest bits were attending the classes after a busy day at work, and taking the exams especially, as it was many years since my last exams. I was delighted to hear that Leiths have launched the Evening Essential - Part 2, as although I have left my day job now, it would fit in around any other catering events that we may get at the time. I have already booked my place and know it will continue to develop my confidence and inspire me.

I love the creativity of cooking - it is so different to the counselling work that I have done for most of my working life. It is great to be able to create delicious food for other people and feed, nourish and give pleasure.

I have had one of Madhur Jaffery’s books for many years and loved lots of her dishes, probably inspired by a trip to India when I was about 25 and worked in a hospital in South India. Ottolenghi’s food I find fascinating – the original flavours and complexity is very exciting. My copy of Plenty More in particular is falling apart. And Anna Jones’s books feel so homely and almost like your friend teaching you how to create lovely vegetarian food.

We took the decision to start our catering business, Broad Street Kitchen, as veggie/vegan for a couple of reasons. The first was that we were heading that way in our own cooking, for health and environmental reasons. The second was that we loved the challenge of creating something tasty without meat. Neither of us are entirely veggie/vegan, although I rarely cook meat these days. The third as that we felt that we had a better chance of getting a pitch at the Ludlow Festival as a veggie/vegan stall, as this would be completely different from the other stalls in what was and still is a very meat orientated area of the country.

It is hard work running a stall there because the numbers of vegetarians and vegans is relatively small, so it is a job we do there for love and the challenge, not monetary rewards! Having just completed our third festival, the response we get is growing, partly because we are getting known there, but also because veganism has grown so hugely over the past two years. Although other stalls sell a veggie/vegan option, many of those customers who are trying to incorporate more veggie meals into their week, or who are solely vegan, would prefer to come to a stall where no meat dishes are sold.

So for the future, we are hoping now to move onto running events such as supper clubs ( I talked to Chris Barber, who teaches the Leiths Food Business course, about this) and parties. We have a busy May with two festivals in Shropshire and a run of private catering events, plus another festival in June and a festival style wedding in July!


Instagram: @bskfoodies

If you dream of a career in food, come along to our friendly Open Evening on 5th June.

At Leiths, there are dozens of routes to your dream career, from our Food Styling course to our Recipe Writing classes to Nutrition in Culinary Practice or our full Diploma.

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