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Overseas Indian

Published on: Aug. 11, 2020, 4:43 p.m.
Mama Spice enchants France
  • Sivadasan in her Mama Spice outlet: indulging her life’s passion

By Sekhar Seshan. Consulting Editor, Business India

When Devaky Sivadasan decided to add some Indian spices to the bolognese she was serving some French friends, the first reaction was: “Oh no, we can’t eat spicy food!” It was then that the immigrant from India decided that she must educate the people there that ‘spice’ did not mean just chilli. And so was born Mama Spice, a down-to-earth business venture she launched in end-2016 after 12-plus years with Airbus Helicopters.

“If you take the 130 spices and aromatic herbs that exist in the world, I realised, the potential to create new flavours and seasonings is just incredible,” says Sivadasan. “This is what I chose to do with Mama Spice.” Rather than follow the well-trodden path of the traditional spice blends everyone knows: the world of curries, ras-el-hanout –  a Moroccan spice mix – and masalas, she wanted to create a ready-to-use range that could be used in any style of cooking.

Sivadasan’s journey began in 2000, when she walked out of a bad arranged marriage and decided to study beyond her BA in economics in which she had topped Kerala University five years earlier. Unable to finance herself for a course at the University of Chicago and someone suggested that France would cost less – and she learned that there were actually universities there that teach
in English.

Sivadasan got into a business course at Kedge Business School in Marseille, and her grandmother stood guarantee for her study loan. Then, in 2006, she attended the second interview in her life: for a job at Airbus.

 “When the receptionist found that I was a foreigner, she called her boss and told him that they couldn’t take me on as I was a foreigner,” she remembers. “He was curious and came out to meet me ‘for 20 minutes’. But that interview, in the reception area, lasted for an hour-and-a-half, at the end of which he gave me the job!”

Sivadasan worked for Airbus Helicopters in various capacities, but never got over her love for spices. On 31 December 2018, she quit Airbus Helicopters to focus on her brainchild, Mama Spice, and work towards getting everyone to love spices as much as she does. “I can’t live without my spices!” she says. “When I came, I brought a suitcase full of spices and Kerala rice, but very few clothes.”

A year-and-a-half after launching Mama Spice from her home, she opened an eponymous outlet in June 2020, which she says is ‘one location where I unite my three culinary passions’: Spice Perfumery, where she sells her spice blends; The Sustainable Restaurant, where she uses them ‘to create magic’ in simple dishes; and Culinary Studio, where people get together and actually cook with them.

  • One of her early mentors in Marseilles had told her that she worked like a ‘Nez’ – the French word for nose, used to refer to a perfumer – in the perfume industry where they create new scents

“It’s all a question of dosage,” Sivadasan explains of her perfumery. One of her early mentors in Marseilles had told her that she worked like a ‘Nez’ – the French word for nose, used to refer to a perfumer – in the perfume industry where they create new scents.

Her restaurant kitchen is completely open, letting clients see what she cooks, the produce she uses, in total transparency. “It also gives me the wonderful opportunity to share some conversations with my clients,” she says.

Talking of her commitment to sustainability, she says she asks her clients to meet her half-way by stopping food waste, because ‘we can only do this together’. “So I ask them to reserve in advance: if I have 10 mouths to feed, I will cook only for those 10,” she reasons. “I can buy the best produce, do my part to contribute to taking care of Mother Earth – but if I throw away what I make, where’s the sustainability in that? If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to take care of Mama Nature just as much as one’s potential to earn an income.” 

In the Studio, Sivadasan helps people understand how spices work – then they all sit at the table together and relish their meal.

Businesswise, too, a diversified offering with three separate revenue streams makes a lot more sense than putting all her eggs into one basket, she points out. In the future, she plans to develop her product range to include ready-to-eat meals, jams, juices, chutneys… “The creative possibilities are endless!” she adds.

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