The story of The Curry Diva begins more than 50 years ago, when Heather Jansz realized that there was no place to get authentic curry in Minnesota. With years of at-home cooking experience alongside her mom, aunt and sisters in Sri Lanka, she decided to change that.
“I was a little afraid to do curry. At the time in Minneapolis, there really wasn’t anything like that,” said Jansz.
Jansz wanted to broaden the cultural food scene in the Midwest, but she also wanted to introduce a healthier cuisine. “Sri Lankan food tends to be gluten-free and dairy-free,” she explained. “Curry also activates all the senses in one meal: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent. When you give your body all of it, you don’t crave something in particular later.”
Relying on her passions for Sri Lankan food and healthy eating, Jansz opened her first curry restaurant in the 1970s. Locals, food critics, Midwestern neighbors and even traveling soccer teams popped in to try her curry dishes.
As her business grew, Jansz moved into bigger spaces in Minneapolis and St. Paul, taking the Sri Lankan community with her. She set out to foster friendship, family and fun wherever she went.
“I was also a singer in my life. So we would do a curry meal, and I would get up there and sing a few songs to make it an evening of entertainment and good food,” she said.
Jansz’s food focuses on flavor and farm-fresh ingredients, especially from local women-farmers. Her curry blend consists of cinnamon, clove, lemon grass, fresh curry leaves, cumin, saffron, paprika and more. She’s created a ton of recipes over the years, but she always returns to sea bass: “I love doing coconut curry sea bass. It’s one of my ultimate favorites over quinoa, risotto or rice.”
After years of serving her curry recipes at restaurants, Jansz pivoted to pop-ups. “I had a young daughter, so she came with me wherever I went. It was back and forth: sing a song, make 15 or 20 orders, work the front, breastfeed,” she explained. Pop-ups were the answer to more time and flexibility.
Coordinating with local restaurants, Jansz offered “The Curry Diva,” one-night events featuring her Sri Lankan recipes. Now Jansz has a regular Saturday pop-up at Gigi’s Café in Minneapolis, where she’s currently based. The Curry Diva also offers catering, classes and private Diva dinners.
Looking towards the future, Jansz wants to supply businesses and farmer’s markets with chutney. Her chutney flavors include date and lime, pumpkin, cranberry ginger, ginger plum, mango, aronia berry and more.
“You can bake with it, put it on cheeses, spread it on meat, throw it on BBQ or grilled fish, use it as salad dressing or make a boring turkey sandwich delicious,” she said. “I would even put it on ice cream!”
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