College Curries uses a part of the revenue generated from selling curry powders to fund college for a student in the family from whom the recipe is sourced.

This German curry powder brand was started to fund an Indian girls educationCourtesy: College Curries
Features Human Interest Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 18:01

When Surya Ormeloh and Nils Lalleike left India in 2015 after their sojourn at Auroville, the souvenirs they carried for friends and family back in Germany was the usual Indian ‘curry powder’. But instead of taking along a few samples, the couple carried small bags containing 100 gm of curry powder. The spice blend was their housekeeper Renuka’s recipe for her everyday mulagathool.

Little did they realise that these bags would not just change their fate, but also the fate of deserving Indian students looking for a means to fund their college education. Meet College Curries, a German food venture fueling education in India and fieriness in German cuisine. 

For the love of curry

College Curries manufactures and sells curry powders based on the personal recipes of women in India. They use a part of the revenue generated to fund the college education for a student in the family from whom the recipe is sourced.

“Both Nils and I were funded by various means for our education. So we understand the importance of having the right opportunities to succeed in life,” said Surya, who co-founded College Curries along with her husband, Nils.

Surya and Nils moved to Auroville for a brief period in 2014 with their children. Auroville is home turf for Surya who was born and raised there and moved to Germany for high school. She holds a Master’s in Modern Indian Studies. Nils has a background in Geographical studies and has worked in agriculture and also as a coffee roaster.

Surya Ormeloh and Nils Lalleike | Copyright: Land der Ideen/Bernd Brundert
Among Nils’ list of favourite Indian things, Renuka’s prawn curry ranked high. “It was famous in our family. We asked her to make it every time we had friends and family visiting. This is also her daughter Bhuvana’s favourite dish,” shared Nils.

Renuka’s prawn curry would have remained a part of their Indian memories had Renuka not discussed her daughter’s college education with them. Finding it difficult to source funds for the same, she asked Nils and Surya if they could help her in any way. “That really got us thinking about how we could go about this,” said Surya. “We had developed a good relationship with Renuka, and we did not want the equation to change by becoming so-called sponsors,” she explained.

The couple decided to crowdfund the money from friends and family back in Germany. They narrowed in on their personal favourite, Renuka’s mulagathool recipe, as a ‘Thank you’ for people who would be willing to donate money. Purchasing the ingredients at a local market, the duo had it milled based on Renuka’s instructions. The idea was also to make Renuka feel an equal part of the process. “She kept asking us what do I have that people would pay money for. We wanted her to know that her everyday curry powder is special in its own way,” said Nils.

They shared Renuka’s story, and in exchange for the curry powder, people were asked to contribute an amount they thought was right. The couple were able to raise enough money to pay for Bhuvana’s Master’s course in Comparative English Literature at Pondicherry University. 

Growing into a business

While Surya and Nils managed to accomplish their goal, what they did not anticipate was getting more requests for their curry powders. When the calls began coming in, they realised that they could use this module to fund more students. Knowing Meena and her son, Arun, they decided to market Meena’s recipe, and meanwhile streamlined the process.

“We looked up a mill in Germany and worked with them to source the same ingredients, which were blended in the combination of the mother’s recipe. We put together a production chain and produced units that could be sold here, adhering to the European standards,” said Nils.

In 2017, they registered their business in Germany. College Curries is also joined by Günter Rother, a friend of Surya and Nils, who is a sensory expert and helped them develop the idea from a concept to a business.

Today, College Curries is a venture that funds education and is also educating people on the nuances of the overarching term, curry.

“Turmeric is the main ingredient in 99% of the curry powders that you buy here, and that is the association that Germans have with curry,” said Nils. The team shared that they decided to sell the powder under the recipe owner’s name to showcase how this spice blend varies from region to region, cuisine to cuisine, and even from one home to another. “We still call it curry because we want people to be able to have that association, but we also want to show that curry powder could mean a lot of different things,” added Surya.

Customers use curry powder creatively

Both Renuka’s and Meena’s Curry Powders contain organically sourced coriander seeds, red chillies, black pepper, fennel seeds, turmeric, asafoetida and curry leaves in varying proportions. Nils and Surya do not tailor these blends to the European palates and are surprised by how innovatively people use them in their dishes.

“We have converted no-curry users to regular curry users,” shared Nils. College Curries find themselves in sauces, soups and even in dishes like spaghetti bolognese. “You may not notice it in there, but there is definitely that extra punch that our curry powders bring,” he added.

Courtesy: College Curries
The team sells their spices online and in select organic stores in Germany. They are selective of the outlet they choose because they want people to care for the cause and for the products. On the College Curries website, they share recipes for the curry powders and information about the beneficiary students.

Curries ahead

College Curries will soon be adding their third curry powder, rasam this time, from a home in Palani Hills. “We have a saying in Germany – ‘Go where the pepper grows’. This means get far, far away from here. That’s exactly where we are going, to the pepper,” said Nils. This rasam powder is heavy on pepper, and they hope to raise money to fund the recipe owner’s daughter’s education.

Nils and Surya emphasise that it’s not just the recipe that counts to qualify for College Curries, it is also the people behind these recipes. “We look at families that have a strong understanding of the value of education and at students who are driven. Finance is the only bottleneck here, and we want to remove that bottleneck,” said Nils.

Surya added that these students also understand their social responsibilities, something that the College Curries team hopes to encourage among the future generation. Bhuvana, for instance, taught English to children near her locality, and Meena’s son worked as a night watchman to help his mother.

College Curries is currently funded by a startup-scholarship provided by the state of Schleswig-Holstein. While the team is not profiting from the venture yet, they hope to fund more students and become a self-sustaining business in the near future.

“We want to show that the traditional knowledge of Indian households is valuable. When reproduced in a proper manner, it can actually support a small company and fund higher education,” said Nils.

The couple also hopes to replicate this model in India some day. “We have a long way to go before we get there,” said Surya.

Sharmila Vaidyanathan is a freelance writer based in Bangalore. Her articles have appeared in Scroll, The Better India, The Goya Journal, Nature in Focus and other publications.

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