Q&A with Angela Malik, Food Innovator & Disruptor

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Angela Malik is the wearer of many hats. A self-described "food innovator and design thinker," Malik has, throughout her career, worked in Michelin starred restaurants, launched her own cooking school focused on Asian cuisine on the back of Google SEO, and consulted for corporate catering companies. She's also currently part of the London Food Board, where she advises Mayor Sadiq Kahn 

Really, though, Malik is someone whose voice we need in conversations around food innovation: she's a professionally trained chef who fully embraces tech, and wants to use it to make what we eat more sustainable, more equitable, and more collaborative. 

Malik will be presenting a 15-minute TED-style talk at Smart Kitchen Summit Europe in Dublin next week, but we talked with Malik to give you a sneak peek at this culinary enigma. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

 

Q: You play a lot of roles — cooking teacher, chef, disruptor, and influencer. How would you describe yourself and your multi-faceted business?

A:  In general, I see myself as a connector between the food world and what’s happening between tech-driven businesses. It’s a unique space to be in, because food tech is evolving and changing as an industry at a very fast pace.

Currently, though, I describe my role as a “strategy & innovation consultant.” For example in my latest role I'm working with a large FTSE 250 listed contract catering company, to figure out what 21st-century workspace dining looks like and implement innovative business strategies. Tech, sustainability, hyper-personalization; these are the trends we’re seeing across business. I work on how we can incorporate those into food — and the answer, to me, lies in data.

 

Q: You have a strong culinary background — what drew you to be interested in food technology?

A: When I turned 30 I decided to leave my job as a forensic accountant with KPMG in London to enter the culinary world, so I joined Leith’s School of Food and Wine, trained to be a professional chef, and worked in Michelin star restaurants. But there weren’t many women — let alone Indian women — there, and I soon decided that restaurants weren’t going to be my game.

So in 2008 I opened up my first cookery school, which was all about demystifying Asian food. I launched it solo and taught myself SEO and adwords, basically building my business on the back of Google search. That business evolved into my first cookery shop and deli, which I called “The Modern Asian Deli.” My goal was to curate multi-sensory experiences where people could interact with food in different ways.

In 2015 my brick-and-mortar roll out plans hit a wall and I decided to reassess, so I asked myself: “What’s next? What is the future?” My other great love, besides food, had always been the internet. In particular I am fascinated about the businesses that lie behind technology, and their potential to impact millions of lives so I decided that I wanted to specialize in food tech.

It’s just such an interesting time — like the Wild West in the 1880’s — in food technology. I wanted to become one of the pioneers, especially since there weren’t many women.

 

Q: You’re part of the London Food Board, advising Mayor Sadiq Khan on food issues across the city. What exactly does that role entail, and what projects are you working on in the organization?

A: We are currently writing the London Food Strategy (LFS) document which will be implemented across Sadiq Khan’s mayoral term.  The LFS stretches across all the touch points a Londoner has with food throughout their lives: from breastfeeding to school and institutional dining all the way up to better ways to feed the elderly.

Basically, we want to answer the question “What impacts a Londoner’s food choices?” On the board, I have the particular role of leading conversation around the impact of tech on food. For example, now there’s a lot of talk about delivery companies in cities. I want these guys at the table; they need to be at the London Food Board and they need to be involved — and accountable — in the cities where they serve.

 

Q: You’re a vocal proponent for women chefs and food entrepreneurs. How do you think we can help women and underrepresented minorities have more of a voice and influence in the food tech sphere?

A: People in the food world are too obsessed with white men in white chef’s jackets. We need to learn to cross-pollinate and bring new perspectives to the party.

What I’m keen to do is for us [in London] to become a city where we have mechanisms put in place which allow adult training and education to happen, especially for women, and especially for minority women. Part of my soap box is: “Let’s look at ways that we can empower women who cook at home for their families.”

It just makes sense: there’s a massive shortage of qualified chefs, and we have a huge talent pool: women. I see digitization playing a big role in bringing more women into the food entrepreneurial space. These platforms let people communicate with each other and find each other, and discover new opportunities or avenues to get involved with food and tech.

For example, I’m working on an adult education and upskilling project on how to get more people, primarily women from BAME (black, Asian, minority, ethnic) backgrounds trained to do catering. A lot of them cook at home, but maybe English isn’t their first language, or they don’t have the tools to enter a business like this. We need to empower and celebrate their innate skills.
 

Q: What do you think will be the most disruptive trend in the food and cooking industry over the next few years?

A: Our world is changing at a very rapid pace. For example, we’re only just beginning to see the impact of delivery on our industry, it is equally frightening and exciting. Rather than be scared of it, though, we have to embrace it — and if we have to cannibalize our own businesses to do it, that’s okay. The biggest challenge will be making sure that new tech businesses are good citizens of the world

Early Bird tickets are on sale now through June 30th for Smart Kitchen Seattle! Come join us on October 8-9th to join the conversation about the future of food and cooking.