Although an accomplished TV journalist in Brazil, Larissa wanted to make a change. Food has always had an important presence in her life growing up in a Syrian/Lebanese family, so perhaps it was only natural for her to gravitate towards the culinary world.
We spoke with Larissa Aiex who outlined her extraordinary journey from journalist to chef, and how the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme helped her achieve her dreams.
From journalist to foodie
A sudden realization changed the course of her life:
“One day I thought I don’t want to be a journalist anymore. I got out of that fulltime and started to work freelance. I had more time to do extra things, so I started to cook to get extra money. I told a friend of mine, that one day I am going to do catering, so that friend said, ‘Okay. Do the food for my birthday.’ I did the food for his birthday. When I left his birthday there were a lot of people asking me, ‘Oh, I need your card.’ That’s how I started my catering business.”
Larissa Cozinha was born! In fact, many party-goers and their friends would eventually become some of her first clients. Success followed success, and she knew the profession was right for her and she dedicated herself to it 100 percent.
She took an Executive Chef course in Brazil to train as a professional chef and to learn more about the business. In 2016, Larissa would move to Lisbon, Portugal to continue her studies with a Master’s degree in Gastronomy Science from Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Although her plan was to stay in Lisbon for only a year, she decided to stay indefinitely.
Zero food waste
Limiting food waste has always been important to her having learned it from her grandmother as a child, but a faithful encounter in a Brazilian supermarket would cement it as a guiding principle for her business:
“One day I went to the supermarket in Brazil. At the supermarket I asked someone, ‘Where are the bananas?’
‘Oh, we’re running out of bananas today.’
‘How come? Yesterday it was full of bananas.’
‘Yeah, but they aren’t proper to sell.’
‘What do you mean, “not proper to sell”?’
‘We had to throw them away because they weren’t beautiful.’
That’s when I realized how much food is being wasted!”
Considering there are people in the world who don’t have enough to eat, the actions of the supermarket were appalling. It compelled her to build her business around zero food waste. Zero food waste means reducing the amount of food sent to landfills, by using as much of the product as possible. On the subject she said, “Nowadays I have a catering company and when we do the menu, we try to do it round menu/circular menu. For example, we try to use avocado in different ways, so we have to buy less ingredients but make more. It’s not just about profits; it more about the “profits of the ingredients.””
It is about getting the most of your ingredients, and that means using as much of it as possible, including finding innovative ways to use parts that are often discarded such as vegetable skins or peels.
Going Abroad with EYE programme
Larissa discovered the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs (EYE) programme by chance. She says, “I was ready to do something abroad but I really didn’t have enough money to do an internship program in a nice restaurant, because they don’t really pay you.” While researching possible opportunities she came across the EYE programme. It seemed like a perfect match.
She took initiative and reached out to the host entrepreneur, Sophie van Oyen of SophieEats for her exchange: “I follow her Instagram account. I knew that she does something very similar to what I do, so I got in touch with her.” Knowing that their food aesthetics aligned, Larissa contacted her directly and asked her to join the programme, and Sophie agreed.
Experience as a Young Entrepreneur
The stage was set for two chefs and entrepreneurs, passionate about zero food waste, to collaborate in Amsterdam for two months.
Together, Sophie and Larissa created a weekly plan that would provide the guidance for duration of the exchange. Larissa came with very clear objectives in mind. She wanted to learn more about the catering side of SophieEats, from start to finish: receiving an inquiry, how to deal with it and the client; the kinds of menus to suggest based on client consultations, pricing, ordering from different suppliers, how the orders were received, menu prep and how everything was shipped to the client.
Larissa can’t speak highly enough of her exchange with the EYE programme. “It was amazing going there. First of all, Sophie is amazing. She was very open and she does the same things that I do as an entrepreneur. It was really like a match. It helped me to see things in a different way and at the same time, I could see that what I was doing was right.”
These days she applies everything she learned from Sophie to her business:
“There are very specific things that Sophie does, that I didn’t use to do, but now I’m doing them. I am more detail-oriented and take a lot of care in the presentation of the food. I respect the seasonality of the ingredients, because Sophie does that a lot. It’s about being very loyal to all the things I believe in and remaining focused on that. Business will grow when you can really do what you believe.”
The Future for Larissa Cozinha
Larissa has big dreams for her company, “My goal is to become the most known catering girl here in Lisbon and to work just with fashion and design brands. Having my own kitchen, to produce everything and have a signature. People are not only going to eat, but also look at my food and say, ‘This is Larissa.’”
For those young entrepreneurs who are thinking about joining the EYE programme, Larissa adamantly recommends it. “Oh, just do it. It very important and it’s very inspiring. It’s different than you being a trainee. It’s about you having someone that has passed through the same things that you passed.” She also thoughtfully added, “Choose a company that inspires you. Or person who inspires you. Don’t do it just to have a chance to go away for a few months. Choose something that you really believe will help you grow.”
Become a Host Entrepreneur or a New Entrepreneur
If you too would like to become a new entrepreneur like Larissa, or are interested in participating in the programme as a host entrepreneur, please visit the EYE programme page or register for one of our Info Sessions!