In 2010, the year Firsthand Foods opened for business, Vimala Rajendran of Curryblossom Café approached us and asked, “Should I work with you to source meats locally?” She fondly remembers our response, “Before there was Firsthand Foods, there was Vimala’s and you’ve always been sourcing direct from farmers. So keep on doing just that.” We understand that direct a relationship between farmer and buyer can be preferable and more profitable for both parties. Firsthand Foods is designed to be the next best thing, solving problems, taking on some of the supply chain risks (e.g., inventory management, accounts receivable, etc…), while keeping the relationship as local, direct and “firsthand” as possible.
Now Vimala finds that she can’t always procure everything she needs directly and so turns to Firsthand Foods for select products. We’re thrilled to be a part of what she’s creating and a bit awestruck by her generous spirit and positive attitude. It’s rare to meet someone who so thoroughly inhabits their values in life and work. A long-standing activist for progressive causes, including environmental justice, grassroots media, farm-and restaurant-worker rights, Vimala believes that delicious, wholesome food is a human right. She operates on the principle, “Vimala cooks, everybody eats,” and thus no one is ever turned away from her restaurant. This philosophy combined with her talent in the kitchen has brought her many accolades, including last year when the Indy voted her Best Chef (2018) and for the past eight years (2011-2018), when Curryblossom Cafe was voted best Indian restaurant in the Triangle.
Vimala first began offering Indian-inspired meals out of her home in Chapel Hill in the early 1990s. After a couple of years, the Health Department made her shut down but not before she’d cemented a reputation as a fabulous cook with a wide-open, exceptionally kind and visionary spirit. After closing, she turned to odd jobs that she could manage while raising three children as a single mom (without alimony or child-support). Years later, when she decided to open Curryblossom Café in Chapel Hill, she didn’t have to look far to find a community of supporters. Within five days of putting out the call, she’d raised $80,000 in what she now refers to as her “Grand Blossoming.”
Vimala’s food is uniquely inspired by the availability of local, seasonal ingredients and the southern locale she now calls home. She was one of the first in the region to serve barbecue made with pork from Cane Creek Farms Ossabaw breed of hogs. She won a People’s Choice award at a Shrimp & Grits throw down. Each ingredient on her menu is thoughtfully sourced and artfully combined.
But Vimala’s real story is one of creative resilience. That ingredient is one she attributes to her faith and her good memory. She says, “I never forget something good that someone has done for me. And that’s all I need to get through the hard times.” This year she gratefully celebrates 25 years of living her life anew.