It probably would have been quicker to just ask Heather Jansz what she hasn’t been doing lately.The woman who first brought really, really hot and spicy cuisine to Minnesota has her fingers in so many pies, chutneys and sambols that it’s hard to keep track without a website.
You might remember her as Heather Balasuriya, from the days when she was chef and co-owner of the Sri Lanka Curry House. I first met Heather about 30 years ago, when she and her then-husband, Evan Balasuriya, were running a little café in northeast Minneapolis called Mulligan Stew House #1. An entrepreneur with dreams of franchise fortunes had hired them to run the first of what was envisioned as a national Mulligan Stew chain.
The stew wasn’t a big hit, and there never was a Mulligan Stew House #2, but word got around about the terrific, spicy Sri Lankan curries that Heather offered as daily specials. Mulligan Stew House #1 soon became the Sri Lanka Curry House, the first restaurant to introduce Minnesotans to really hot and spicy cooking. The café quickly outgrew its storefront, and moved to more spacious and stylish home in Uptown.
Much later, after Heather and Evan split up, Heather opened up the short-lived Curry Leaf Deli. I had heard that she was working at Macy’s as a personal shopper, and doing a little catering on the side, but it turns out she’s been up to a lot more than that.
When I caught up with her recently, Jansz brought me up to date on just a few of her current activities – these days, she’s a cooking teacher, caterer, singer, personal chef, restaurant consultant and personal shopper. You can find a lot of the details on her new whizbang website, www.heatherjansz.com, where you can also watch videos of Heather giving a cooking lesson, and singing, (with local guitar legend Dean Magraw.) Dinner parties catered by Heather come with an optional bonus: on request, she’ll bring along Magraw and perform a private concert after the meal.
The cooking classes come in lots of different versions: large groups, small groups, one-on-one, as do her catering services. Her repertoire of dishes for dinner parties and classes ranges from simple Sri Lankan curries to an elaborate Indonesian rijstafel. Many of these are the same dishes she served at the Sri Lanka Curry House, and later at the Curry Leaf Deli in Saint Paul, but Heather says her cooking style has evolved since those days – she now incorporates the Ayurvedic philosophy of food and health into her dishes. She also offers her homemade spice blends, spicy sambols, savory salsas and chutneys for sale – check the website for details.
Her cookbook, Fire & Spice: The Cuisine of Sri Lanka (co-authored with Karin Winegar), is out of print, but you can find used copies on the Internet selling for as much as $175.