January 20, 2022

Ambassador interview: Omari McQueen, young star chef and online school student

Omari McQueen is the latest ambassador to join us at King’s InterHigh. He is Britain’s youngest TV chef at just 13 years old, having learnt to cook when his mother fell ill with severe migraines. He is taking the food industry by storm and launched his own vegan brand in 2017. We spoke with the Peckham-based entrepreneur about his remarkable career, his big plans for the future, and the challenges he overcame along the way.

When you first started cooking, did you find it challenging? What was it about your dad’s teaching that inspired you so much?
I found cooking challenging when I first started because my kitchen wasn’t really adapted for children. Simple things like reaching all the cupboards and accessing the equipment I needed were difficult and this slowed me down initially. However, my dad’s teaching inspired me so much and we found ways to make it work. He always encouraged me to experiment in the kitchen and when I made mistakes there was never any judgement. I felt free to express myself through food, which was, and still is, an amazing feeling for me.
What motivated you to launch a vegan brand? Was there a gap in the market you wanted to fill?
When I initially created my vegan dips as an experiment, I was blown away by the reaction from my friends and family – they loved them and couldn’t believe they were vegan! This reaction motivated me to launch my own vegan brand and I wanted others to try my products too. I’ve also always wanted to be my own boss; I never want to copy or imitate other people. I want to bring something different to the table, be innovative and test my skills to the fullest.
Can you talk to us about the process of launching your own brand as a young chef?
The process of launching my own brand felt really natural. My parents helped me design my packaging, labels, and my brand identity, and they also helped me to perfect my product by tasting all my food! Then, my mum encouraged me to start selling products at events and sharing cooking tips online, and it all grew from there. It’s definitely a family operation, which has helped bring us closer together in a really fun and exciting environment.
Have you found juggling your career with school difficult?
I have a really busy schedule, and I have sometimes found it tricky to balance going to school with my career. There were some great opportunities and jobs I had to miss out on because I needed to be in school. Because of this, we decided to try home-schooling; for the past two years, my mum has taught me, and she’s been amazing! I’m busier than ever now, and so is my Mum, but my education is really important to me, which is why I’m really excited to take my education to the next level by starting at King’s InterHigh. It is the perfect solution, as it will take the pressure off my mum and will ensure I stay on top of my studies.
Have you found your passion for cooking has helped you academically?
My passion for cooking has helped my education in many different ways! For example, my parents ask me to read cookbooks aloud, which really helps with my confidence in reading and in public speaking. Also, cooking has improved my maths – I have to buy the right number and amount of ingredients so I can make a certain number of products, as well as weigh ingredients and work out how much to charge people. Combining my academic studies with my cooking has meant so much to me. It’s changed my perception of learning – I really enjoy it now. I am also dyslexic, so I found it really difficult to learn the conventional way, but this helped bring learning to life, and in a way which ties in my passions and interests.
What subjects at school do you enjoy the most?
Aside from cooking and food tech, my favourite subjects are Art and History – I would love to study these subjects at GCSE level when I’m older. It would also be a huge accomplishment for me to gain GCSEs in English and Maths as I am dyslexic and I never thought it could be possible! I will work really hard to make this happen.
Do you think the flexibility of King’s InterHigh will help you fulfil your passion for cooking?
Yes, definitely! Before, my parents and I used to worry about schooling. Sometimes, it was a distraction from my career and vegan business. But I know how important education is, and my parents have never let me lose sight of that. Now that I’ve joined King’s InterHigh, I have dedicated teachers covering all my subjects and recordings of every lesson, so if I miss one because I am filming or working on my next book, I can always catch up after! This helps me relax about being able to juggle my schooling alongside filming and restaurant commitments – it’s such a big help. Also, having a dedicated timetable and message board which clearly states my deadlines enables me and my parents to focus on the business around lesson times. It’s a really exciting time for us!
What is the most enjoyable and exciting part of having your own cooking show on CBBC?
There are two really exciting things about having my own cooking show on CBBC. The first is watching my friends and family see me on TV – I know they’re proud of me! Secondly, I love being able to share my vegan recipes with an audience that may not otherwise have known much about veganism. I really feel vegan food should be more accessible and that my show can make a difference.
Do you find the fact you are Britain’s youngest TV chef overwhelming at all? How do you deal with this level of success at such a young age?
No matter my level of success, I’ll always focus on what matters most to me which is making change and bringing people together through food without harming animals. I view being Britain’s youngest TV chef as a step towards achieving this mission, rather than something overwhelming. I’m always focused on the future and sharing my vegan recipes and tips with as many people as possible.
How do you relieve stress? What do you enjoy doing for fun, outside of cooking?
I don’t often get stressed but if I ever do, I either cook, game, or play sports! I’m a big basketball fan and a huge gamer, both of which I really enjoy.
What are your proudest career moments so far?
The proudest moment in my career was publishing my first cookbook! This was a real highlight for me because I found it so challenging. As I have dyslexia, I never thought I could write a whole book, and yet I did! I enjoyed it so much I’ve now written a second cookbook which has just been published.
Can you talk to us about your support system? For example, have your family and friends helped you along the way?
My support system is amazing! My parents and siblings all play an important part in helping me achieve my goals. They’ve always been encouraging.
What are your hopes and plans for the future? Both in terms of your career and education options?
I have big dreams for the future! I want to become a world-renowned chef like Gordon Ramsey, - he is my favourite chef because he is passionate and his drive for success and business is incredible. Also, I would love to run a chain of restaurants, a vegan fast-food franchise, see my dips in stores in as many places as possible, and organise tour bus restaurants in all big cities around the world. I feel I can make a huge difference by sharing my passion for vegan cooking, and that’s exactly what I plan to do!

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