So, what do you do when your cooking mojo runs dry?
Turn to that box of Salty Crax you have been saving for a rainy day? Or look to the heavens and pray for divine intervention?
Just do not completely lose the plot when you have been hit by “cooking fog”, Johannesburg-based caterer and recipe developer Apriena Jugoo Pummer (42) advises. “Life is too short to eat bland food, there is cooking inspiration everywhere,” she says.
Throughout her adolescence and years later her mother, Jyoti, has been the source of food inspiration behind her culinary endeavours.
In 2011, this inspiration became the catalyst for a dream food business, PriMade, a catering service, recipe development and spice blending hub in Johannesburg.
“My mom is a typical Indian woman who loves to feed people, she really cooks from her heart. That is what I have learned from her, to cook from the heart. I really believe it is one of the biggest ingredients you put into your food, and people taste that. When you are doing something and it is your passion, you can do anything well,” she says.
After graduating with honours in English literature and psychology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pummer moved to Johannesburg where she worked in human resources and recruitment until she became pregnant with her first-born, Noa in 2010 and later Zen in 2013.
‘Now there’s this thing called Covid-19. Can you imagine the trauma of running a restaurant in 2021?’
“I am an extrovert. Initially my husband was concerned that I would get bored and that I would not be stimulated enough,” says the Durban-born home cook.
Opportunity knocked when she sold her famous chilli chutney at a market hosted on her residential estate. If ever there were a clear sign to pursue her cooking dream, this was it. “I said to my husband that day, if I ever want to work again, I want to do something that I absolutely love, and that’s when I decided I want to do food.”
As a child Pummer never dreamed of a career in the kitchen. “I wanted to be a marine biologist, or a journalist because I loved writing.”
The youngest of three girls, a typical Sunday in her native Durban was spent taking family trips to nurseries to buy plants for their home garden.
However, she hated gardening and much preferred spending time in the kitchen while her family planted. “By lunchtime food is on the table, and I’ll set the table and everything.
“I do love gardening now, it’s so funny I grow my own veggies, I’ve got so many things in the garden, and I just love it.”
While her father may have been the breadwinner in her childhood home, this did not deter her mother from earning an income using her artistic skills and offering classes in sewing and design to women in her neighbourhood.
“My mother always did something to help supplement the income at home. She used to give sewing lessons to make extra money on weekdays and sometimes on a Saturday for ladies who worked. As a young girl I learned women can be independent, there is always a way to make money if we apply ourselves,” she says.
This inspired her to show her own independence in the kitchen. “The first time I made us an egg chutney, because (my mother) could smell it as she came out to the kitchen, she’s like, what are you doing?
‘When you are doing something and it is your passion, you can do anything well.’
“I said, ‘I cooked us lunch, I was hungry and I thought I couldn’t wait for you.’ I think she was extremely proud.”
The more time spent in the kitchen the more she daydreamed of one day owning her own restaurant.
“You are young and don’t know the responsibilities and what it takes to run a restaurant, it sounds easy when you are 13 or 14 years old. And now there’s this thing called Covid-19. Can you imagine the trauma of running a restaurant in 2021?”
Picking up the pieces
Before the global pandemic Pummer was booked and busy catering at least two corporate events every week for international doctors attending a seminar or conference in Mzansi. “I used to feed neurosurgeons, cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons three course meals, now they have stopped flying in,” she says.
Since then, she has reverted to the basics of selling readymade meals and catering a few events with limited guests.
“It has been challenging because my husband is also in the wine industry and it has basically been six months of him having no income. I had to sell a lot of food; I did a lot of those reheat meals. I still do my weekly meals I sold when I started my business.”
Covid-19 has, however, allowed her to explore another passion. “I always liked photography, I went for a course years ago to learn how to use my camera, but life gets so busy that you become complacent. I picked up my camera and started playing again and that’s when I started getting noticed by all these brands.”
She has since made major strides in securing recipe development deals with big brands like Le Creuset and McCain, among others. “I grew small, I grew organically and I’m still going to grow,” she says.
‘If food is your passion you can do anything. Don’t limit yourself, push yourself!’
Pummer plans to further expand her business through recipe development and growing the spicy side of her business interests with her own range of seasoning, PriMade spices.
Her advice to young chefs and home cooks is simple. “Believe in yourself. If food is your passion you can do anything. Don’t limit yourself, push yourself!”