Still in his twenties, Ben Mariner has already had an impressive career as a pastry chef. At 16 years old, Ben earned a full scholarship with The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and, after completing his training, he spent five years at London’s five-star hotel The Goring where he progressed to Pastry Chef de Partie. During this time, Ben cooked for British and visiting royalty on numerous occasions and the restaurant was awarded its first ever Michelin star.
After leaving The Goring, Ben spent two years in Australia working with celebrity chef and MasterChef Australia judge, Darren Purchase. Ben returned to London in 2017 to work as Head Pastry Chef to a famous billionaire whilst working on his business idea to make cookery courses more accessible to all in any location around the world.
The Online Pastry School launched to the public in February 2019. Ben explains his impetus for starting his business:
“Cooking classes are very expensive and usually only cover one dish. I want to make professional pastry training affordable for everyone and allow people to even cook along while pausing and playing the videos so no one falls behind of the tutor. Doing it in video format reduces a £200 per day course down to £20, with exactly the same content and no travel required.”
He had an idea he believed in, but starting a business was an entirely alien concept for Ben whose skills lie in creating stunning patisserie. He was referred to X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) to access the finance he needed to make his first videos and, along with facilitating finance through Start Up Loans, was guided through the business planning process and administrative tools.
“I received £5000 through X-Forces Enterprise and used it to hire the film crew, rent a kitchen and film the first wave of course videos, as well as buying the equipment needed. The finance was also applied to the task of raising awareness by means of social media, google ads and also joint ventures on sites such as reed.com and Groupon.”
Ben’s allocated XFE Business Advisor offered mentoring and guidance, just a phone call or email away, in a scheme supported by TRBL. Ben continued:
“The main obstacle at the start was knowing how to set up a company and what records to keep/ how to organize the company efficiently. This is something that XFE’s mentoring has been helpful with; I can ask any questions I need with regards to legal obligations, marketing options and how to plan my time to make sure everything gets done each month. With XFE’s help, I was quickly in a position to start selling.”
For a nominal monthly fee, users can subscribe to The Online Pastry School’s online courses for step-by-step instructional videos on beautiful desserts, cakes, petit fours and tarts from a host of top pastry chefs and bakers. The website now has over 50 video courses from beginner to professional level, and the library is growing every week.
Growing up in a military family may have contributed to Ben’s work ethic and his focus on excellence; his father served in the Army for 25 years, completing his service as Warrant Officer. Ben said:
“I think the Army upbringing definitely influenced my can-do attitude. Those values instilled in my father of hard work, determination and a disciplined approach – I uphold a similar ethic in all I do and aim for excellence.”
Though his passion may be food, Ben had an interest in digital platforms and knew how he was going to get his products in front of potential customers through search engines and social media. He was comfortable with software and applications, but recognised he needed a strong videography partner. Ben recalls a really challenging experience that threatened to set back his launch entirely:
“At the start of the project I hired a videographer to come in and film the courses, and I paid for the kitchen rental and all ingredients and equipment. After filming, I waited a few months for everything to be edited but, on the day we agreed to meet up, he disappeared and I never heard from him again. I was forced to find another and start from scratch, so I got everything in place for a second shoot and this time the videographer didn’t even show up. I lost a lot of money, not to mention time. The third videographer was thankfully more reliable and I was able to get everything recorded and finished ready for the site, but I learned a lot about collaborating with other professionals.”
In the first months of trading, Ben has attracted more subscribers than he’d hoped and his delivery timetable is on track, with new content filmed by him and his chef colleagues each week. On YouTube, The Online Pastry School publishes snippets of the courses and additional hints and tips.
Ben considered his post-launch position:
“I plan to keep growing the courses until every subject is covered. I am working on moving up the rankings on Google and the social followers are growing nicely. The first months have gone really well and I’m thrilled to be actually doing what I set out to; sharing my knowledge with the world and make professional skills available to everyone that shares my immense passion for pastry.”
Ben’s fast progress caught the attention of XFE’s CEO and founder, Ren Kapur MBE, who applauds his idea:
“Ben’s story is testament to why we embrace military family members in XFE’s sphere of support; just as the service person upholds strong values, those nearest to them inherit the same principles. Here is a craftsman that has honed his skill, practised at the highest levels, and felt compelled to not only share his expertise and knowledge with others but creatively removed the cost barrier. We are extremely proud to have helped Ben to launch The Online Pastry School.”
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X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) is an award-winning Community Interest Company that nurtures entrepreneurial ambition in the UK military community, official delivery partner to the government’s Start Up Loans Company and MoD’s Career Transition Partnership. XFE supports Service leavers, veterans, spouses, cadets and Armed Forces family members to start their own businesses with a full package of training, finance, networking and mentoring. Start your journey by registering today here.
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