Have you ever eaten something so good it stopped you in your tracks? When I was at the Fancy Food Show earlier this year I tasted one of the most incredible things in the world. It was Kari’s South African Tea Cake from Kari’s Desserts.
This recipe I later discovered was passed down through the generations. Kari Mansfeld, the founder, like so many other female entrepreneurs in the gourmet food industry was working in retail when she decided to realize her passion.
Kari was encouraged to start a business to sell the desserts she made for her friends and family at dinner parties.
She “fell” into the gourmet food industry just out of passion for baking. I had never seen anything like what she made, and was absolutely enamored with the desserts I tried. I’m not the only one who has discovered Kari’s Desserts. Malva Pudding is the favorite dessert of Nelson Mandela. Art Smith and Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef.
Women like Kari who take a big risk by leaving steady corporate jobs to pursue their passion are my heroes. She answered some questions for me at the Fancy Food Show. Check out our interview below.
What got you interested in the food industry?
I was never a very good cook – at least not in my opinion, and was very happy to source out easy and delicious alternatives to actually making something myself. But when I did cook, it was dessert as I always liked it. I served my desserts at dinner parties and finally enough foodie friends said that I should make it and sell it. I set about producing the first Kari’s Malva Pudding.
Where did these recipes come from?
The recipes for Kari’s Malva Pudding and Kari’s Chocolate Malva Pudding are based on traditional South African recipes. It took a while to come up with one that really tasted just the way I liked it and came out consistent in production. The recipe for the Kari’s Fridge Cake is my granny’s. My granny used to make it and then my mother made it all the time, and I have been making it the same way my whole life.
Do you feel you were ever treated differently because you were a woman, in the U.S. and in South Africa?
I do not feel really like I have been treated unfairly in either place, but have some simple observations. When I first started working in South Africa, I was designing bathing suits for a very large international brand in the South African division. I worked with all women on the textile end, but all men (with the exception of one secretary) on the footwear end. It never struck me as odd at the time, but I know that I would not have had the respect as a designer if I had been constructing the complicated athletic sports shoes – it was understood that I could make a bikini, but I would be out of my league with a rugby boot. Truth be told, I think we were all doing what we were best at, it just was very sexually divided. I never knew if the footwear designers were getting paid more or the same as I was. The administration in the company was all male.
When I moved to the States, I also worked for a large sports company and the administration was all male with the exception of one woman. She definitely was constantly fighting for herself and as a result, was always under attack and scrutiny. The men in the office she reported to were always finding reasons to fault her methods. It was very hard for her.
Now in the food industry, I have found that the male buyers are all more relaxed than the female buyers. The male reps do not work as hard as the female reps. People are very careful in the demographic where my products are sold (natural and specialty food stores) and I also believe that professional and working Californians in general are very conscientious and do their very best to be as politically correct, culturally and sexually accepting, and fair as possible.
Although it is not the most important thing, I have been treated differently because I was a woman – In South Africa, a man will always hold the door open for a woman and have her walk through it first, but here in the States, he will not want to offend her, and may not do so as a result.
You can find Kari’s incredible desserts at Whole Foods market. Follow Kari on twitter at @Karisdesserts.