Thomasina Miers, Co-founder & Executive Chef, Wahaca Restaurants on Celebrating Female Entrepreneurs

To celebrate the forthcoming First Women 2012 awards, The NextWomen spoke with the three entrepreneurs amongst the 2011 winners.

We'll be featuring interviews with Bev Hurley, CEO, YTKO & Enterprising Women and Thea Green, MD, Nails Inc in the run up to the April 13th nomination deadline, but today we bring you Thomasina Miers, Co-founder & Executive Chef, Wahaca Restaurants , the 2011 Winner of the Tourism & Leisure award.

The First Women Awards celebrate trailblazing women from the business, entrepreneurial, manufacturing, science & technology, and media sectors who are leading the way for the next generation. The awards were created by Real Business and the CBI, and are held in association with Lloyds Banking Group.

The closing date for entries is 13 April 2012, with the awards ceremony taking place on 28 June 2012 in London. For more information please visit the First Women Awards 2012 website.

Thomasina Miers is a cook, food writer and the winner of MasterChef 2005. Since winning the popular show, Tommi has written four books and opened several Wahaca restaurants in London. She has written for Waitrose Food Illustrated, The Times and The Financial Times amongst others; co-presented two Channel 4 cooking series and produced her own show, Mexican Food Made Simple which aired in July 2011 on Channel 5. Thomasina won the award for being the first to recreate the atmosphere and style of Mexico’s street markets within central London.

Her outstanding contribution to the food industry, as well as her entrepreneurial drive and determination meant she was an extremely well deserving winner. Judges said that Thomasina was a clear winner because she demonstrated tenacity and gravitas well beyond her years and has grown her business with a passion and rigour that is undeniable.

We spoke to Thomasina about celebrating female entrepreneurs; the qualities needed to start your own business; and about why women should nominate themselves for the First Women Awards.

TNW: What did winning a First Women Award mean to you and your business?

TM: It was a huge accolade for the hard work I have put into our business over the past five years and an amazing recognition of all that I have been working on.  I was thrilled and it was great press for our business.

TNW: Why do you think it is important to celebrate female entrepreneurship through events like the First Women Awards?

TM: I think women are a huge, vital power in our workforce but I still think this can be underestimated by government bodies.  Why is it so difficult for women to go back to work after having children?  Why aren’t there more grants to get women back into work by helping with childcare costs and logistics? We should look to Scandinavia where it is far easier for women to find childcare and enter back into the workforce.  Our country and economy would be more prosperous if more women were able to work (and work for longer hours).

TNW: Why should other women in business put themselves forward for a First Women Award?

TM: I think it is all about encouraging all women to get into work, to achieve great things and to help others.  Women are brilliant at not recognising their own accomplishments and talents.  

It may be that there are women out there who think that they are just doing an ordinary day’s work who are right in line for a First Women Award!

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for the Wahaca restaurants and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

TM: I first realised that there was a gap in the market in my teens when I travelled to Mexico and realised that Mexican food was a world away from the TexMex food that I knew about.  I carried on with my studies, trying to find a career but noticed that no-one had plugged the gap.  Finally, after about 7 years, I felt that perhaps I should be the one so I found myself a job in Mexico City and flew out there to learn more about the food.  The rest was a combination of hard work and very good luck.

TNW: What is next for your company?

TM: We continue to grow but more importantly we continue to innovate.  Our brightest, most interesting challenge is to keep our business moving forwards both in terms of our food offering, our restaurant design and our environmental credentials.  We never stop coming up with mad ideas to get better, some of which we hopefully put into practise!

TNW: Have you come across any other exciting startups recently and what is it about them that appeals to you?

TM: I think we are in the midst of a very exciting time for food.  There are lots of young people, unable to find jobs and work experience through the traditional routes who are instead going into business for themselves.  There are young people getting into making cheese, opening wine shops and cheffing, who are increasingly finding a market for their wares and services.  Although the recession has been terrible for the country, it has offered another path for enterprising youngsters.

TNW: What are the advantages of gender diversity in a startup? Are there any disadvantages?

I think the most important qualities you need when you start your own business are passion, an appetite for hard work and an insatiable desire to explore and be the best in your field. 

I think you can have these qualities if you are a man or a woman.  Having said that, in terms of women and juggling families with their careers, I think there is greater flexibility in running your own company than working for someone else - even if the hours are usually longer!

TNW: What lessons have you taken from your successes &/or failures?

TM: Learn from your mistakes and never stop challenging yourself to do better.

TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

Go for it!  But ask for lots of help along the way.  I have found that people are amazingly generous with their advice.

TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors?

TM: Millions!  Both Prue Leith and Clarissa Dickson Wright were very kind to me when I was starting out.  John Torode and Gregg Wallace gave me the confidence to follow my dreams and I am constantly inspired by women in the arts and business who juggle so much but still manage to excel in their fields.

TNW: Thank you Thomasina.

The First Women Awards celebrate trailblazing women from the business, entrepreneurial, manufacturing, science & technology, and media sectors who are leading the way for the next generation.

Speaking about the awards programme, Fiona Cannon, Diversity & Inclusion Director at Lloyds Banking Group, said:

"The First Women Awards are a fantastic platform for celebrating and rewarding our country's most inspirational businesswomen and we are delighted to be headline sponsor for this prestigious event for the 7th year running.  At Lloyds Banking Group we champion diversity across all levels of our workforce and have a strong legacy for supporting women in business.

"It has always been our goal to be the best place for women to work and bank and we are encouraging our own successful women, both within our organisation and among our customer base, to follow in the footsteps of the previous First Women Award winners and put themselves forward for this fantastic programme."

The closing date for entries is 13 April 2012, with the awards ceremony taking place on 28 June 2012 in London. For more information please visit the First Women Awards 2012 website.

Sign Up to our Newsletter

So you enjoy The NextWomen. Why not sign up to our monthly newsletter?
You get a Letter from the CEO :-), the chance to catch up with the best of our recent articles - and some extra things we throw in once in a while.

We try hard for smart reading.