Fiona Uyema’s adventure as an author, Japanese TV cook and food producer began in her Japanese and marketing studies in DCU where she spent three years living in rural Japan, cultivating her love of indigenous cuisine.
Since her return to Ireland in 2012, she has introduced copious amounts of people to healthy living through the Japanese diet, engaging in talks, classes and demonstrations. She has been featured in newspapers, magazines and television, and her first cookbook Japanese Food Made Easy was published in 2015.
But Fiona’s success story does not stop there – due to the positive reception that her work has received she has also created her own range of products, Fused, to make it easier for people to bring Japanese cooking to their own homes.
The aim of this range of soy sauces is to combine flavour and excitement with various health benefits – all products are high in protein with no added artificial ingredients or sugar. When discussing her ethos on the rise in popularity for healthy food from the public, Fiona said: “I think food education is really important; people started to read the ingredients on the products they were buying. The customer started to demand better quality and the industry had to meet that demand.”
Fiona also runs a consulting service for restaurants that also want to bring healthy Japanese cuisine and cooking styles into their kitchens. “Businesses and restaurant owners started to approach me to ask for my help on designing their menus and training their chefs to cook the dishes,” she explained.
When designing menus she stated that her main focus is on a combination of health and taste. Her consultancy service also offers restaurants customised training and cooking classes for the team in the kitchen, giving many restaurants the inspiration to start cooking with new and interesting ingredients that they may not have been familiar with.
In many cases, designing menus for other restaurants has led Fiona to create interesting and unique new dishes; and according to Fiona “By including Japanese flavours in some traditional dishes I can create some amazing fusion recipes”.
Fiona still plans to expand more and loves the challenge in the variety of what she does. “I love the fact that every working day is different for me! I get bored easily so I love working on different types of food projects,” she explained.
She has just launched a Fused Japanese street food pop-up, and the response has been extremely positive. The pop-up roadshow has enabled her to add more festivals and events to her business arsenal, taking the brand to the streets, meeting people and creating a stronger and more recognisable brand. She sold out at the launch of the pop-up, while at the Bloom festival Fiona gave demos at the chef’s stage on Saturday and Sunday. She also looked after the Fused Japanese street food pop-up in the picnic area over the course of the festival: “I love going to festivals, the atmosphere is always great!”
Not only is she doing all these events, as well as her consultancy service, but she is also working on new product development for the Fused range. This was made possible when Fused received an innovation and research grant from Enterprise Ireland, which has allowed Fiona to look at creating several more different products.
That is not to say that she does not feel that there are challenges facing those in the industry, particularly those starting out, as she believes that “Cash flow is always difficult for food start-ups. They also lack credibility and make their products on a small scale, so they end up paying more for their raw ingredients and paying upfront. If you can overcome that challenge, then after being in business for a certain length of time you can build a good relationship with suppliers and get credit terms.”
Her invaluable advice for those wishing to start up their own business is to seek assistance from their local LEO offices for mentoring or funding to help kick off the business.
She also found Enterprise Ireland are also very receptive. Her advice centres around start-ups and their passion for what they do: “It’s great to work in an industry that you’re passionate about and other countries are looking to Ireland for produce because Irish produce is trusted”.
Because of this she believes that there is definitely a market in Irish food exports and that can help to grow a food business, advising that “Getting in touch with Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia is definitely worthwhile as they can recommend different types of programmes and/or funding”.
It seems very clear that passion and enthusiasm for your products are key to making a business like Fused a success. Fused has a definite and clear ethos – one of providing and educating people on the healthy and tasty aspects of food, through a selection of mediums. Flexibility and the ability to expand through a variety of formats seem to be key to Fiona’s accomplishments and with that behind her and her product range it seems that the best is yet to come.
[quote_box_center]For more information on Fused, visit www.fusedbyfionauyema.com.[/quote_box_center]