Interview: Vanessa Baxter from The Fearless Kitchen

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Earlier this year I had the opportunity to do some copywriting for Vanessa Baxter, founder of The Fearless Kitchen: a social enterprise that creates unique corporate cooking events (with a conscience) and uses the proceeds to nourish Kiwi kids in need.

Vanessa’s work is too brilliant and too important not to share. So, I begged her to answer some questions for my blog so you could learn more about this social enterprise. It’s one to watch.

Tell us about The Fearless Kitchen. How did it start?

The Fearless Kitchen offers corporate team building in the form of cooking and food-related bespoke challenges - think MasterChef. For every corporate gig we host, we give a cooking experience to Kiwi kids in need (for example, kids at low decile schools or vulnerable youth).

We are newly accredited as a social enterprise and thrilled to be on this journey of making a difference.

The Fearless Kitchen has been in the making my whole life. I’ve always wanted to help others, but at times I’ve not been able to work out the best way forward. It’s taken years of experience to bring all my passion, expertise, and knowledge together and bundle it into a viable business with impact.

My passion is for food and cooking. Throughout my life (and it’s many bumps and trajectories), sharing food with others has been pivotal to my happiness and positive memories. My nana was the same and so was my mum. Love equalled food.

There are people who think this is bad. For a while I questioned it and bought into the theory that maybe life and love shouldn’t revolve around food. Thankfully, I didn’t stay in that space for long. Now I’m happy to share my passion with others. I love to invite and include everyone in the kitchen. To cook and eat together, no matter who you are and where you’re from - this is impact.

Cooking is a life skill, one I believe is essential. We provide quality education around cooking, a passion for collaboration, and a determination to beat obstacles with fearlessness.

What’s your favourite part about running a social enterprise?

Being able to share my love and passion for life with others. And to see the impact we have on shaping how others, especially youth, perceive food and cooking. This gives me the most fulfilment.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?

Don’t allow yourself to be misdirected by those who don’t believe in you.

Any business or mission is a long haul. Everyone needs guidance and may need to redirect along the way. It’s important to surround yourself with people who truly believe in you and what you are capable of. If you don’t, then you can head off course and lose self-confidence.

What keeps you motivated? Especially on difficult days?

The fact that, as a social enterprise, our impact mission is the key to our business. So, even in slow periods, where we have knock-backs or things are taking longer to achieve than we hoped, it’s the people we impact that keeps us going. Knowing that there are people who will appreciate our efforts and really feel that they are learning something and gaining something by being a part of what we do.

Do you have a weekly or daily routine? How do you stay productive and wear many different hats?

Haha - my routine is no routine. I pretty much have to go with the flow. I have to-do lists which I add to as thoughts or needs arise. I review my lists at the beginning of each day to remind myself of what is essential to achieve and what can remain on the list. Then the day tends to take care of itself. Between two teens, single parenthood, hustling for work, running the enterprise, studying to gain more knowledge - every day is busy. Add to that the feeling that I need to stay on top of my social media and meals need to be photographed - you get the picture!

Who inspires you?

Different people inspire me at different moments. My parents inspire me for their continuous efforts to stay focussed and mentally fit despite being in their 80s. My dad only retired this year and my mum has founded and set up a charitable organisation and is so busy!

I also have friends who have achieved incredible heights in their careers, and others who have been extraordinary parents, who I wistfully envy. I am inspired by those who look at life calmly and sensibly and with less swaying emotion than I have. They inspire me to be more centred.

Others inspire me to want to achieve more and more. I am inspired by my children who are traversing into adulthood and trying to work out who they are. It’s not an easy path in any era, but this one seems extra tricky and I am proud of them for their courage. 

Do you have any advice for people considering starting a social enterprise?

It’s so important to ensure you can create a meaningful impact. You need to deeply analyse your target audience and what it is you hope to achieve. You will probably need to iterate and rewrite your ideas over and over to get it right. If you’re simply joining the wave of doing something good without putting in the effort to understand whether what you offer will truly make a difference, then it’s a waste of time.

Impact is tricky to measure, but we need to have a way to do it. If your audience doesn’t want or need what you’re hoping to give or achieve, then you are missing the mark and your business is not viable. I did a course through Munich Uni to make sure I really understood some of the theory of social change. I have also had a mentor at Akina here in NZ, to make sure that I am following the path correctly and with insight.

What are your favourite words to live by?

Be fearlessly authentic. I have been fearless about grabbing opportunities my entire life and I believe this approach has led me to experience amazing opportunities. This will continue as I head into the second phase of life as the owner of a social enterprise.

Any further thoughts or insights you’d like to share?

Everyone has the right to be content.

Not everyone will seek the same things out of life and that is something we need to acknowledge. Our children may want different things than we would hope for. People we would love to help may be content with something different than we are offering. We can’t force ourselves and our views onto others.

Instead, we need to meet everyone with an open mind and appreciate our differences. I believe the easiest place to do this is around a table laden with family-friendly comfort food which draws everyone to it - even with a language barrier, people can share a meal, a smile and create a memory. 

You can follow Vanessa’s journey on Facebook, Instagram, or The Fearless Kitchen website.