Maria Nilsson – Party Food

Maria Nilsson – Party Food

In by Sheela Sharma

When Maria Nilsson arrived in London in 1991 from the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, she had little English and started work as a cleaner. But that was not how she saw her future in life – studying and self-improvement were the key for her. First, she became fluent in English, then she went on to study for a travel qualification and worked for some years in the travel business.

Her son was born in 2001 and her parental responsibilities took her out of the workforce for several years. Returning to work, she took a change of direction and started to work in schools in roles like exam invigilator and playground leader.

In 2010, fortune dealt her a harsh blow in the shape of a brain aneurism. The ensuing period of ill health meant she couldn’t work for a while. But Maria is nothing if not resilient and she started a chef’s course at the Kingsway Westminster College in 2013.

After successfully graduating from the course, she began to think about starting her own catering business. Cooking had been important in her life since she’d been a child – as the sixth of 12 siblings, she was cooking for her younger family members from a tender age. “I still love cooking to this day, says Maria, I especially love to cook with colourful ingredients and I actually find the process so relaxing it’s almost like a kind of therapy!”

Maria realised she needed to learn more about the business world so she started on a business course at a college which shall remain nameless. To Maria’s great disappointment, the course was poorly run and of little use to her. But there was a silver lining, because one of her fellow students told her about the Portobello Business Centre.

Maria contacted the Centre and soon found herself with a business advisor, Maria Stammers, and enrolled on one of the Centre’s courses, MyLifeMix. This course, run by the Centre with award-winning trainer Sarah Jane Menato, lasts for eight weeks and is designed specifically to meet the needs of women who plan to set up a business. The course takes 12 participants right from the very start of an idea through to launching a business.

“The course turned out to be exactly what I needed,” says Maria. “It covered all the topics you really need to know about such as tax, marketing and business planning. But there was more to the course than that. There was an incredible feeling of working together, which the trainer Sarah Jane actively fostered, and a very strong feeling of community. This was very helpful to all of us, helping us to build our confidence and believe in our business ideas.”

Maria then catered for 50 people at a Business Centre celebration to mark the end of several courses. “That was great experience for me,” remembers Maria, “and I’ve also now catered for two other events. I made finger food like corn bread with red peppers and tomatoes, sushi and tuna, mayonnaise, beetroot, carrot and sweetcorn sandwich with wholemeal pitta bread. My cooking combines European and Brazilian influences, and I aim to make food that is both healthy and delicious.

“I’m planning on a formal launch for my business in the autumn of 2015 and I’m currently working on a website and other aspects of marketing. The Portobello Business Centre has been a huge help to me in getting my business off the ground after a difficult period in my life. They’ve helped me with every aspect of setting up a business, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.”

You can contact Maria on 07940 503 048 or