From flight school to gourmet, frozen convenient meals, these two friends have tried to fill a gap in the market.
For about four years, Tom Peaford and Bedant Sen ate a lot of airplane food. They graduated from flight school in 2016 and worked as commercial pilots until they were laid off with many in the industry when Covid hit in March 2020.
“We don’t really have transferable skills,” says Tom. “Opportunities are pretty limited for out-of-work pilots.” Thinking about starting a business together – one an Englishman, the other a self-described Indian “Dubai guy” – they reflected on what they had in common outside the cockpit.
“We both love cooking and we both love good food. And we live in this convenience culture in the UAE, where people are generally very busy. So we thought there was a gap in the market for a product that people can just come home and stick in the oven, but looks and tastes like something they spent a whole evening preparing,” explains Tom.
So they worked with a team of chefs and set about designing recipes for premium-grade, nutritious frozen food, under the business name Gourmate. “Well, we’re mates,” says Bedant. They’re still on the learning curve right now, he admits, having only gone into production last April, but the process has been enough of a grind that he remembers feeling “overwhelmed with joy” when the company was selected for the Spinneys Local Business Incubator. “There are so many ups and downs and you can be so critical of yourself … ”
“Yeah,” says Tom, “to be chosen for something like this makes you feel like you’re doing something right.”
They’re still building up a full range of one and two-portion meals, “plus sides, appetisers and dinner party showpieces like beef Wellington”. Their bestsellers so far include lasagne and cottage pie, but they’re proudest of the butter chicken and Bedant’s favourite, the Thai green curry.
“Those were the hardest to get right,” adds Tom. “The hours we spent working with different spices, batch cooking and then scaling up … It’s not just the recipe itself, you’ve got to see how it freezes.”
He estimates that each dish has taken at least six months of development, but the benefits of the finished product are obvious even before it’s defrosted.
“The long shelf life you get from frozen means less risk to us in the end, and to the retailer, and less waste at the consumer end, too.”