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Shilpa Dandekar

Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Shilpa Dandekar

Taking years to meticulously hone her craft, Shilpa Dandekar has developed a reputation as one of London’s leading female chefs. Her wealth of experience spans more than 4,500 miles, starting with impressive beginnings as a trainee chef with India’s famed Taj hotel group. A move from her home city of Mumbai to the UK in 2005 resulted in the discovery of a new, previously unexplored talent for cooking modern British food. Various pubs shaped Shilpa’s modern British techniques until she found herself revisiting her roots as a sous chef at London’s renowned Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Quilon.

While Shilpa’s time working for Chef Sriram Aylur taught her everything she needed to know about precision, it was through her next star chef employer, Raymond Blanc, that she developed her passion for the intricacies of European cooking that had been absent from her younger years. Quickly recognizing her potential, Shilpa was appointed as Head Chef of the first Brasserie Blanc (near Bank), which she credits as a real starting point for her career.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I started as a trainee chef with the Taj hotel group in India before moving to the UK, where I began cooking modern British food in various pubs and then became a sous chef at London’s renowned Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Quilon. My husband Faheem and I opened a takeaway and home delivery unit in southwest London before we launched PURE INDIAN COOKING (PIC) in Fulham in 2014. And now we’ve launched Pravaas, which is based in South Kensington.

How did the idea come to you for the company?
My idea for Pravaas is that it’s based solely on my style of cooking and planning a menu that is different from anything else. Pravaas is a celebration of the culinary heritage that makes Indian food a tapestry of tastes but also takes people on a journey through creative Indian cuisine. For me, creativity is what makes a chef stand out. People here now know about good Indian food, and we would like to showcase that in Pravaas but with more creativity through my cooking.

At Pravaas, we have a deep respect for Indian heritage, and we draw inspiration from the diverse regional flavours and time-honoured recipes passed down through generations. In saying that, I prefer newness to repetition and through inventive thinking and optimum flavour, the result is a harmonious fusion of tradition and innovation on the plate.

How did you achieve awareness?
At the beginning, when we opened PIC, we weren’t getting much attention and kind of blended into the Indian food scene as there are so many Indian restaurants. But as more people started to dine with us and realize that I had a completely unique style of cooking, we started to stand out. Slowly but surely, people began visiting PURE INDIAN COOKING (PIC) based on recommendations from their friends or family, which has led us to opening our second restaurant PRAVAAS almost 10 years later. The dishes I create are completely mine, and although I take inspiration, the food is a step away from traditional and no one else can take credit for my style of cooking. This, combined with our front-of-the-house team’s dedication to giving each guest a ‘no compromises’ experience, makes us stand out.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Similarly, to the previous answer, we have grown by being unique and sticking to our values. Funding-wise, we have worked hard to achieve everything we’ve achieved and after 10 years of running our first bricks-and-mortar restaurant PURE INDIAN COOKING (PIC), we’re able to invest in a new venture with Pravaas. We have been blessed with a lovely business partner, Fareed, in our journey who has the same vision as we have in relation to food and service. We took almost 10 years to open a second restaurant as we wanted to make sure that we joined hands with the right person, and we met Fareed.

What are the key successes?
In work, it is getting to where we are now. Running two successful modern Indian restaurants that acknowledge our heritage but also step slightly away from the traditional way of Indian cooking. I am constantly setting goals in both my professional and personal life and each small achievement feels like a success.

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Yes, there have been many challenges. When we came to this country many years ago, we had nothing and it can be difficult for any small business to open without backing, but we knew how we wanted our lives to look and began working towards that goal. Even now, when we have opened two businesses, we still face challenges. With the cost of food, ingredients and the general running costs of a restaurants rising, we are just making sure that we are keep costs down and making sure the budget is under control. I think another challenge I face is balancing work and family life but the key to striking the right balance is putting my focus on work when I’m at work and focusing solely on my three children when I’m at home.

What are your plans now/for the future?
Well, Pravaas means ‘Journey’, so we are constantly planning and exploring where this journey can take us. Soon, we’ll be expanding our offerings with some exciting tasting menus, brunch, and lunch offerings in the pipeline. Looking a bit further down the line, the plan is to expand and open more quality restaurants around London.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
I came to this country with nothing. But I knew the kind of lifestyle I wanted to achieve and the things I wanted to do with my career and so I started working towards it. Find your motivation, be focused, and go for it.

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Be completely invested in what you’re doing, I don’t believe in doing anything half-heartedly. The key is to be focused, disciplined, and motivated. Don’t just set goals, set deadlines. Keep your personal life and your work life separate, that is probably the most important thing.

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
There are various people, who I met while I was working my way up that inspired me, who are not well known in the industry but have shared their knowledge along my career however, and I don’t want this to sound presumptuous or boastful in any way, I don’t depend on anyone else for inspiration. I tend to be as individual as possible. I am my worst critic and my biggest competition and my own motivation. I’m always aiming to improve, and I know that I don’t know everything. I am always learning and never afraid to ask questions.

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
I firmly believe in the power of authenticity and focusing on one’s own journey. It’s important to honour your unique path and respect others’ as well, celebrating individuality and supporting each other’s endeavours without interference.

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?