Wednesday, 29 March 2017 18:51

South Africa's "Mistress of Spices"

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"Curry ninja" Yudhika Sujanani "Curry ninja" Yudhika Sujanani Pictures from http://www.yudhika.com/

Think of great Indian cuisine and movies like The Hundred Foot Journey, The Lunch Box and Mistress of Spices come to mind ... what a pleasure to think that flavours like that are accessible right here in Johannesburg. Glamorous "curry ninja" Yudhika Sujanani has been making waves over the years with her Fourways eatery Salaam Bombay, The Curry Club which she started up at her home and her fabulous range of Curry me Homes spices. Now she is knocking everyone's socks off with her opulent new venture, Holi Cow, near Montecasino which has the cars queueing up for her sophisticated take on South African Indian cuisine.

 If you want to lay any claim to the title of "foodie", Yudhika's name is one of the first to spring to mind - even though her own cooking-mad community is one of the toughest crowds around. Cheek2Chic's Sarah Cangley managed to interview Yudhika in between her many television interviews, appearances on the Good Food and Wine Show and icing zillions of cakes!

Q: What are your earliest memories of food?

A: The earliest memory of food was when the world seemed a shorter place and I had to stand on my toes to catch a glimpse of the preparation at the kitchen table. It felt like something magical as my gran or mom would take ingredients and turn them into a feast. 

Q: What is your personal favourite dish? What do you like to cook the most?
 
A:  I'm a simple eater but it has to be lamb curry with gravy soaking 'bursting' potatoes.  
 
Q: I always refer to you as "South Africa's Mistress of Spices"? Do the spices "speak" to you?
 
A: Some minds work in shapes or patterns, some in numbers and mine works with scent and flavours. I often find a dish crying out for a certain spice. It's how we got to creating a signature range of cakes at Holi Cow.  
 
Q: Do you have any special secret family spice recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation?  
 
A: There are basic recipes from puff pastry, scones to delicious curry recipes and spice blends that have been passed on and they will always remain family favourites. 
 
Q: Tell me about South Africa's unique Indian cuisine? The mixture of African and Indian cuisines that characterise Durban cooking? For example your mealie cakes?
 
A: The art of South African Indian cooking wasn't about finding the choicest ingredients or finest cuts of meat.  The real art was in taking standard rations and turning them into wholesome meals. Indian women are blessed with creating a feast with just a few simple ingredients.  Mealie cakes are just the hottest thing at Holi Cow.  White mealies are grated and combined with flour, butter and sugar. This cake is served at tea time and with lashings of salted butter!  It's one of those cakes that makes time travel possible.  Suddenly it feels as though you're in granny's kitchen again.  
 
Q: Everyone always think Indian food is all about the chillis, but they were actually introduced from South America - and traditional Indian food has always been more about flavour and subtle, judicious combinations of spices than heat.  Do you follow in that tradition?
 
A:  Food is all about flavour and over spicing tends to be overpowering. I love cooking with spice but not necessarily chilli heat. There are times when especially in winter when I'm craving a super hot curry and opt for a vindaloo and I have my grumpy days when a silky cream korma with cashew nuts cheers me up. 
 
Q: You are a magnificent chef with a work ethic that involves insane hours, but what do you do to maintain balance in your life?  
 
A: This is a tough question but truth be told there is no balance. I'm hoping when I look back on life when I'm in my rocking chair, it balances out and makes sense. I've learnt to be kinder to myself on the balance issue. For me I'm going to find it only when I look back someday. 
 
Q: As a very successful and independent businesswoman, with several published cookery books and a range of best seller spices, have you found it hard to swim against the stream of tradition? What has been the reaction to your enormous success from within your own community?  
 
A: The initial response wasn't great and I was questioned about why curry?  Everyone has a mom, aunt, grandmother or neighbour who cooked up great curries. I didn't let it dampen my spirit. I just had a great love for curry and all things spicy. 
 
Q: In your new 24/7 venture at Holi Cow do you still find the time for that important glamour aspect for example, rocking a sari and some designer heels?
 
A: I always find time for rocking a sari and the heels too. The business has grown in leaps and bounds. The kids are growing so I'm trying to focus on my family and the amazing Holi Cow. 
 
Q: What is next on the horizon for you? Can you tell us?  
 
A: All I can say is my plans are to see what adventures life has planned for me. There's no point planning so I'll just leave that to destiny or fate. Life has surprised me so far with a career greater than i could have imagined.  Let's see!
 
Find out more about Yudhika on her blog, http://www.yudhika.com/
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