Winning Women – Yudhika Sujanani: Spiced up holy cow

2014-09-29 08:00

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Throughout her career, celebrity chef, author and spice creator Yudhika Sujanani has stuck to what she knows best: curry. It’s taken her to the heights she dreamt of as a little girl, writes Sue Grant-Marshall

The Holi Cow deli and coffee shop in Fourways in Joburg is impossible to miss with its brightly coloured cow and lively signage, and soon I’m sipping coffee and munching Turkish delight cake with celebrity chef and cookbook author Yudhika Sujanani.

She’s surprisingly relaxed. It is here that she makes her eight spices that sell in some Spar retailers in Gauteng, cooks ready-to-eat curry meals for two local Spars, films her TV show, bakes cakes, runs her cookery classes and is writing her third recipe book.

Furthermore, two of her three young children, her mother, her grandmother and her customers all amble in and out of the shop.

“This is what I dreamt of as a little girl when I took crystals from a chandelier to make earrings, cooked samoosas and baked cakes in my mother’s kitchen in Isipingo, Durban,” she says.

Sujanani is referring to her reputation as the “curry queen of bling”. When she began doing cookery demonstrations at food and wine shows in 2009, she swapped aprons for Jimmy Choo shoes, diamond earrings and stylish outfits.

“There’s nothing like a little bit of drama to go with food, and back then I was the only ‘glam’ chef. There are others today, of course.”

Sujanani’s latest cookery venture is on the new TV lifestyle show Mela, which was launched earlier this month on SABC2.

Celebrities, business innovators and leaders in the creative and performing arts, fashion and entertainment industries are featured. Sujanani, who agrees that she is “quick with words”, is the show’s resident culinary expert.

She began her cookery career in earnest in Joburg in 2002 when she opened Salaam Bombay, a restaurant in the Fourways Gardens shopping centre.

For a while, she also ran The Curry Club, which raised funds for and created awareness about disadvantaged communities.

Today, she still works for the UN World Food Programme as its hunger advocate in southern Africa.

Sujanani sold her restaurant in 2008, “because I was always there and I had three young children who I wasn’t putting to bed at night. It was time for a change and I decided to become a motivational speaker, teacher and personal chef.”

A chance meeting with the executive chef of the Melrose Arch Hotel put her on to the live cookery demonstration circuit.

Soon she was emailing her recipes to audiences. After one show, at which she put samples of her Masala Magic spice on every seat, the huge response elicited a request from the Spar in Broadacres to launch a range of her spices.

“They gave me a fortnight to deliver them and were sold out within an hour,” she says.

Her next foray was a self-published recipe book, Curry Me Home.

“The little book, which only had 20 recipes, soon sold out of my 5?000 copies. So I did a second one, Curry Me Home Again, with a 15?000 print order.”

Sujanani is working on a third one, which will be the biggest yet “because now I have stories to tell about each recipe”, she says.

A year ago, she was driving past her now Holi Cow premises. She saw the site was for sale, and she and her husband put in an offer the same day.

She heard about the Goldman Sachs Gordon Institute of Business Science 10?000 Women Entrepreneurs course on Twitter. “I couldn’t believe it when I was accepted,” she says. She was even more astounded when she won the prize for the best business plan.

“I learnt so much. I was a control freak and now I realise I need to delegate in order to make time for creative thinking.”

Sujanani’s mother was a professional chef, and she would help her mum after school.

Back home, the family kitchen was always filled with the delicious smells of baking and curry as her grandmother cooked.

“It’s part of my earliest memories. Everything important happened in the kitchen,” says Sujanani, whose great-grandfather was a baker.

Her next venture, she hopes, will be a lifestyle brand, including things like children’s clothes and coconut body scrub. As I leave the deli, her husband arrives to take their two Afghan hounds and a Boxer – they always spend the day there – back home. The rest of the family is sitting around a table eating ice cream and drinking coffee. Little pink book

Business tip

Keep a really open mind because life has its own plans for you.


Pat Tarr, the owner of Broadacres Superspar, who taught me to always make a plan and who never says: ‘I can’t’.

Business book

The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It helped me to understand why I was such a loner as a child – some people are just different.


Remembering all the things I said I would do as a child.

Wow! moment

Winning the Gibs prize for the best business plan.

Life lesson

Business is not just about an education.

To run a business, you have to be knowledgeable.

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