A taste of success

Workingmums.co.uk talks to mum-of-two Charmain Ponnuthurai who has just published her first lifestyle app.

Charmain Ponnuthurai has a passion for food, but she admits that “a great deal of taste is married with that in-the-moment feeling, of eating and remembering deliciously when I last ate that pleasurable morsel”.

A graduate of Two Fat Ladies’ Clarissa Dickson-Wright’s Books for Cooks cookbook shop, she is author of Midnight Feasts, a compilation cookbook for those with “the midnight munchies”.

She is also a mum of two small children, aged two and five. Her latest project is a new app called London on a Plate which tailors food experiences to a particular memory or a time or place. She describes the moment it went live as “not quite the same affair as the birth of ones’ children, but when you’re in love with what you do, it’s a certain close second”.

She clearly loves what she does, which is often a key motivator for many mothers who set up their own businesses.

Her app, described as the perfect lifestyle app for the Sex in the City careerwoman, is full of expert reviews, photos of London and recipes by top chefs including Masterchef’s John Torode and acts as a showcase for new designers of furniture and fashion. It was named one of the top 20 new apps by Apple when it launched in June. It covers not just going out in London, but indoor entertaining, including what to wear at a dinner party.

She says she came up with the idea heard stories from people who would travel abroad and not try the local food. “I had an idea for creating a guide book that helped travellers understand the ingredients in the food they eat. Eating it’s such an integral part of travel – it’s sensory and about sharing an experience,” she says.

On her blog she says: “My idea was to recommend places where people might eat, and to supplement these with recipes from their place of choice. I dipped into all the memories that come from the ceremony of enjoying food, and as I reminisced about a gorgeous pancake breakfast I’d once enjoyed on the rooftop of Villa Maroc in Essaouira, I remembered that though the food was central to my memories of the event, it was also the surrounding view (in this case a windy beach and seagulls), that coloured my recollections. It was an event that took place ten years ago, yet I can still recount the décor of the rooftop, and even what I wore on the day. This is where London on a Plate started.”

In her early discussions with designers she talked about wanting to create the style of a favourite notebook, full of cuttings, doodles and poetry. She says: “I was inspired by a long bus journey I took once in Costa Rica, travelling to Matapalo and sitting next to a musician who had a gorgeous notebook in toe. The book, full of scribbles and rhymes, was one of the first to make me realise how special a notebook can be, and my five year old often reminds me of this as she carefully minds her own book, practising her letters and delicately holding up the page for me to see. The quest was to translate this sentiment into the app, and to communicate the pleasures a notebook.”

It took a year of rejections from potential publishers before she got the go-ahead.

Charmain says the app can help busy mums by “giving them dinner party ideas or ideas for a romantic interlude in London with your husband/partner or for a quick bit of shopping and it helps for keeping in touch with city life whilst you are immersed in the world of children”.

The app was funded through some seed funding from a venture capitalist and through free labour on Charmain’s part to get it off the ground. Although it carries no ads, she hopes that the shopping pages focused mainly on emerging design talent will bring in revenue and she wants to build a following from the integrity of the content. She thinks people will welcome the app for its “personalised, hand-curated approach” because she feels many are suffering from an overload of information coming at them from all quarters. She is also looking for partners which “share a mutual brand value” and for an investor and marketer to come on board to build the brand.

Charmain is juggling her work with looking after her two children and says she manages it through having good friends with kids who can do swaps and by mixing different forms of childcare, including playgroups and preschool.

She hopes eventually to expand the app to other cities, and “White label the concept for individuals”. She says: “We would love to do something like Boris Johnson on a plate. By looking at the city through an individual and their favoured food haunts and memories it allows for the personality of a city to come through.”

* London on a Plate is available to download on iPhone, price £3.99. It will soon be available on Blackberry, android and iPad. A 10 per cent donation from each app goes to the surplus food charity Fareshare.

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