The global health crisis caused by Covid-19 was surely the spanner in the works that we never saw coming. With its continued devastation the battered hospitality industry is only now beginning to rise from the ashes.
Despite the doom and gloom many keen food entrepreneurs have refused to back down from the Covid-19 devastation.
Maruwaan Christians (30) is amongst those who stood firm and created a thriving business he calls Sushi Fundi, claiming his right to be called Sushi Shokunin (skilled cook).
Sushi is not just a flavoured rice roll, it is an art, the home cook and entrepreneur believes.
“For me it is the construction in making sushi, inspiration is everywhere. Clients will always ask me, ‘why does your sushi taste so different?’
“It is 100% fresh and prepared in front of them, watching me construct a plate of sushi for them, they are feeling positive, they are eating with their eyes, they are actually tasting the sushi before they eat it,” he explains.
Sushi Fundi was a dream seven years in the making which manifested in 2020.
“I sold all my cars, my brothers assisted me with capital, and this all just came together when we were still in the lockdown,” Christians explains.
While he may not be a qualified chef, Christians has worked in the food industry as a caterer and consultant for seven years before hard lockdowns were announced last year.
“Lockdown happened and now suddenly you don’t know what next. I started making sushi from home and then started offering my delivery service straight to your doorstep.”
I got it from my mama
Born and raised in the Cape Town suburb of Mitchell’s Plain, Christians fondly remembers moments in the kitchen bonding with and teasing his mother, Amina. “I used to make fun of her for not using a measuring system. She knows how to cook and would do this based off her instincts.
“I have always wanted to compile a recipe book with all of her meals, but I am still struggling because my mom never knows how much of the ingredients she added to a dish.”
After matriculating from the Spine Road High School in 2008, Christians opted to follow in his late father’s civil engineering footsteps but realised that he had no passion for the trade.
Building is a family trade, he says, but his mother’s love for cooking trumped the expectation for him to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Ashraf and late father, Mustapha.”
From trolly boy to aspiring itamae
Before his aspirations of becoming Sushi Shokunin, Christians worked as a trolley pusher at a Pick ‘n Pay in Plumstead, soon rising through the ranks of the grocery packer and later cashier.
He soon found his solace and moved to the Pick n Pay deli where he eventually trained in the art of sushi making.
His journey with the major South African grocery giant would only be the beginning of realising his dream of one day owning his own food business.
“Once I gained enough experience, I eventually moved to Ocean Basket and then from there I came across this company called the Harbour House Group.”
The Harbour House Group are the visionaries behind a portfolio of some of Mzansi’s freshest, most vibrant and innovative restaurant brands, including Tiger’s Milk Kitchen & Bar, La Parada Bar de Tapas, Life Bait and Grand Africa Café.
For seven years, he trained and mastered the art of making sushi. “At Pick n Pay I learned to make sushi, at Ocean Basket I refined my skill and speed and at Harbour House Group I learned creativity. I put it all together to make my dream a reality,” says the Cape Town cook.
One of the biggest challenges in venturing into a new business in a country under national lockdown has been the uncertainty of not knowing whether you would succeed or not.
“It is a sacrifice and (you have to appreciate) the little that you receive. Some days you receive very little and other days you find yourself on top of the moon with all the money you made.
“If you can make it through this tough time, then what is next will be a walk in the park. Sushi Fundi has been a success thus far given the time that we are in now. Always give thanks to God and keep the faith,” he says.
Time spent developing recipes with his daughters, Liyah (8) and Amarah (4) are moments to treasure. “They have been through my journey since the very beginning. They were also two of the rare Cape Town people who didn’t eat sushi, and now you find my girls eating 16 pieces in one go.”
His advice to other cooks and foodpreneurs? “Enjoy the kitchen, build passion and believe in the plate that you serve.”
“Inspiration, motivation and creativity go a long way in the kitchen. Explore and experiment as much as you can, you never know what new flavour combinations you might come up with, don’t let the recipe limit you.”