COOK was founded in 1997 by Edward Perry and Dale Penfold, who had the mad idea of trying to cook and sell frozen ready meals that would be made like you would at home.
They've clung to this founding principle through thick and thin (and it's been pretty, darn thin at various points). They've also clung to their independence.
Here's the story from COOK co-founder Ed...
The one problem was that I didn’t know the first thing about cooking. But I’d discussed my idea with one of my catering customers, Dale Penfold, who ran the kitchens at The Whitbread Hop Farm (a tourist attraction near Paddock Wood). His background was in corporate catering in the City of London and after a bit of persuasion, he agreed to join me as the chef who would make our homemade-style food. My wife Sophie was also involved from the start, sorting out the brand and pointing out where I was being an idiot. Without her constant support and insight we wouldn’t have got off the ground.
To finance our venture, we convinced a couple of banks to lend us £20k and my parents gallantly contributed £8k more. We kitted out an old pizza delivery kitchen in Rainham, Kent with dodgy, second-hand equipment and rented a tiny shop in Farnham, Surrey to sell our food. In March 1997, fully equipped with a level of optimism that bordered on the delusional, we opened for business.
Our founding statement was "To cook using the same ingredients and techniques that a good cook would use at home so all our food looks and tastes homemade."
A lovely idea.
The problem was that neither Dale nor I knew anything about making frozen food that would taste this good. As we were both glass-half-full types, we assumed it wouldn’t be too difficult to figure out.