Money & Me: 'I swapped the high-end lifestyle for a frugal approach'

Chef Vanessa Bayma says work-life balance and saving money are important

Chef Vanessa Bayma with her cat, Shadow. Ms Bayma says the best money she has spent was Dh7,000 on an injured kitten as she saved a life. Ruel Pableo for The National
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

US-born chef Vanessa Bayma inherited her passion for food from her fiery Sicilian and Brazilian grandmothers during childhood cooking sessions.

Born to New York Italian and Brazilian parents, and raised in California, Florida and Saudi Arabia, Ms Bayma's lawyer aspirations faded after a friend paid her $1,000 to run a pasta station at an event.

Ms Bayma’s 20-year hospitality career includes executive and catering chef roles and consulting for hotels, resorts and private yachts.

She moved to Dubai 12 years ago and later established CBC Consultancy and Events, which provides concept, menu and recipe development, private chefs, large-scale event management, training and evaluation.

Ms Bayma, 38, has worked with many high-net-worth individuals, royal families, footballers, TV stars, companies and festivals, and credits a near-fatal car accident at 16, which left her almost unable to walk, for her financial epiphany.

She lives in Dubai South with her husband and rescue cats, Shadow and Chloe.

Did you have a wealthy upbringing?

I got a taste of both worlds. My father was a self-made millionaire by 25. We lived in a mansion in LA, I got everything I wanted as the oldest of three sisters. When I was about eight there was a huge crash in the states.

My father was in corporate real estate and we hit rock bottom, sold the Ferrari, the house, and my uncle offered my father a position in Saudi Arabia. We switched gears, worried about money, counted pennies, I had chores. I guess my father realised he might have spoiled me when I was younger. He started to focus on instilling values with regards to money.

What was your earliest taste of commerce?

I wanted to have a lemonade stand (while in LA). He (my father) made me sign a contract, rent the table, take a “loan” to buy lemons. I was eight, made 200 bucks. For a child, that is like millions, but I had to pay everything back, plus interest. At the end of the day, my profit was $40, still a lot for a kid. It lit the fire but I realised your profit isn’t what’s in your hand.

When was your first job?

We got back (to the US from Saudi Arabia), my parents had divorced and I got a job at 13 to help my mother, lots of side hustles. AOL had recently started and there were chat groups where I was selling Beanie Babies for thousands of dollars.

I worked at a pizzeria, a vet clinic and in telemarketing. At 18 or 19, I started going to auctions, buying and flipping cars. Then, I was interning for a lawyer in corporate real estate law. My father was the positive influence on my spending. I started to learn about saving for rainy days.

What brought you to Dubai?

I previously came for a wedding and loved it. There was a gap in the market for consultancy and events, private chefs, so I capitalised on that. It started out just me and we morphed into this animal.

Some of my chefs make close to Dh20,000 to Dh30,000 a month and work 10 to 15 days, so they are happy. That is important in our industry, you cannot cook if you are miserable.

What is your spending outlook?

I stopped living the Dubai lifestyle. Now we have people over; I’m a chef, why would I not? If I want to go to a fancy dinner, I’m not going to deprive myself but it is once in a blue moon.

Generally, I am frugal but also a realist. You need to spend more on certain things … the $20 pair of shoes will break in one year. You get what you pay for. My utensils for work — not crazy expensive knives but German-made, good for a lifetime.

Be frugal but be smart, get good quality at inexpensive prices. And work-life balance is important. Do what you love, what you are good at, and save, save, save.

Vanessa Bayma is a regular saver and has several long-term investments. Ruel Pableo for The National

How do you grow wealth?

With regards to regular savings, I diversify, several accounts. We have a couple of long-term investments. We want a couple of investment properties, mainly in South Africa, and we own a piece of a company there. The next property, we are going to transform it into either a bed-and-breakfast or a rental.

What expense brought most satisfaction?

We have rescued a few cats and found them homes, at one point an injured black kitten. It cost us Dh7,000 but we fixed her, found her a home. That is the best money I spent because I got to save a life. That is rent for the month, but I can make money back, it brought me joy and she is living a happy life.

Any financial shocks?

I have had ups and downs to the point where I filed for bankruptcy (in the US); I won a lawsuit after a car accident when I was a kid and spent all of it. I ended up in and out of hospitals.

After paying the lawyer, I was left with about $500,000, which you shouldn’t give to a teenager. Dad put it into savings for me, but I splurged, got an apartment, bought motorcycles. I sat down with my dad and started to learn how to manage money better. That was a wake up call. What that taught me was to act like I am broke. So, when I get money now, that immediately goes into savings.

My relationship with money has become one of heavy respect; it can destroy your life if not handled with respect. It will come and go
Vanessa Bayma, chef

How do you feel about money?

Money is a fickle mistress. It is a lot easier to be happy with money but, at the end of the day, it is what's inside you [that] you need to be comfortable [with]. My relationship with money has become one of heavy respect; it can destroy your life if not handled with respect. It will come and go.

Any spending regrets?

I had a nice, reliable Ford hatchback and was jealous of my sister’s red Corvette convertible. I technically bought it from her and told her she could have my car. That thing broke within a day of me having it. I had to dump so much money into getting it fixed.

What are you happiest paying for?

I will treat myself, maybe fly business class so it doesn’t hurt my back. I would rather spend on others than myself, spend on experiences and enjoy those with others. I am not really into physical things; I like adventures. One of my most cherished experiences was when I flew my (then) new husband and I to South Africa for my first safari. I work really hard and want to build memories versus simply buying a TV.

Are you shocked by some client budgets?

I used to be very surprised when they were willing to spend Dh14 million on only 200 people for one night, only the food — for a private gathering. But after being in the region for a while …

What are your future financial goals?

Within five years I want to have at least three rental properties and, as soon as everything calms down with cryptocurrencies, we are waiting for the crash to heal so I can get my investment back.

I would like to grow my company in a manner so it is self-sustaining and I simply have to pop in every once in a while to make sure it is moving forward.

I really would like to have a bed and breakfast or a vineyard in Italy, have people over for cooking classes and host weddings.

Updated: December 04, 2022, 10:52 AM