Featuring: Seema Bhatia, Founder Prana Yum Limited
Female Fingerprints is a monthly feature created to highlight women around the globe who have had an impact in their local communities. Each month throughout the year I will share some of the best and brightest stories of women who are making a positive and lasting imprint on our world.
My curiosity leads me to appreciate people and their stories – particularly when they resonate with my passion for hospitality. When I connect with an individual that I am intrigued by, I want to know more about the impact they are making. All of us leave a remnant as we impact our own communities. It is that trace, that thread, which I look to uncover. There are always possibilities for discovery of my own hidden potential, as I delve into my search.
When I met Seema Bhatia, I was intrigued by her. Not because of her many honorifics – graduate of Richmond, The American International University in London, Vedic Nutritionist, Wellbeing and Spiritual Mentor. Entrepreneur; Prana Yum Limited, but, instead, her soft-spoken voice, grace, and her genteel persona. She possesses etiquette, courteousness and kindness at all times. Her qualities of mind and character, a disposition that tends to rub off on to others in her company. Mostly, I sensed aristocracy and regality. I was not wrong.
Seema’s parents were connected with the Rampur Royal Family, who ruled the state in northern India from the late 18th century. Her mother, Veena, had a fascination with culture and cuisine. She had fine taste and enjoyed preparing lavish meals for royalty. Veena’s opulent table-scaping, predilection for hospitality and art, was most desired and appreciated in her majestic surroundings.
“My mom was gorgeous, a refined lady, queen of hospitality, who went to school with the princesses!”, says Seema, with great sentiment and pride. It is no wonder that her mom was preparing royal feasts for her guests. Dishes that required high quality produce, spices, and garnishes.
Her parents relocated from India to Nairobi, Kenya, where Seema was born. Being the youngest of three girls, Seema, stayed close to home. As a pre-teen, she doted on her mother, always watching, and learning from her. Cookery classes, writing a cookbook, learning about art, crystal, silverware whilst maintaining a library for her mother. Seema was a good student with a keen eye for fine things.
As idyllic as her upbringing was, Seema’s story is one of resilience in the face of change. It was challenging enough moving from Kenya to Bombay, after marrying. But to then relocate to Hong Kong was more demanding than she expected, especially in the beginning. She missed her parents and her sisters. Adjusting to the many changes was exhausting especially as her husband was often away on business. “Moving from Bombay to Hong Kong was a culture shock.”
However, Seema’s strength surfaced when she started to learn a new language, make new friends, and engage her new community. In the midst of this change, Seema became a mother to two beautiful girls and to a new business. Starting a new business whilst embracing motherhood was a challenge that drew on all her past. She determined that to make her own way, she would “follow my mother’s footsteps.”
Seema did what she knew best, drawing on the hospitality and culinary skills she had inherited from her hero, her mom. In 2007, she launched a supper club and catering business, “Africa to Asia”- a culinary safari that journeys between two continents. A journey on a plate!
Her strategy was to introduce foods that were often unnoticed or unknown. Her menu offered up unique dishes, like, pumpkin in coconut cream, Mishkaki kebabs, – a new taste for her Hong Kong clientele. As her catering business expanded she took another step forward by offering cooking classes instructing students on North Indian as well as Goan cuisine.
Her business grew and in typical Hong Kong fashion, she received much recognition. Seema was asked by Radio Hong Kong to speak on the “Silk Road Journey”, covering food, spices, and tea, from Tibet, Turkey, India, and China. She was fast becoming a “food artisan”.
Living up to Expectations
Seema was thriving in a city that, at first, seemed too much to overcome.
However, Seema’s mom was diagnosed with cancer, which devastated the entire family. In order to provide the best care and support system for her, the family decided to move her to India from Kenya. Seema’s life was temporarily put on hold to deal with the most pressing turn of event. Fortunately, her mother gradually recovered with the help of advanced medical care, strong family support and faith.
After her mother recovered, Seema received an invitation as “Celebrity Guest Chef” on a cruise ship run by Genting Cruises. The opportunity meant cooking for guests on an extended journey from Hong Kong to Malaysia and Singapore.
This was by far one of the greatest opportunities she had ever received. And with such an immense responsibility, her desire was to honor her mother and celebrate her recovery. Seema determined to create a menu inspired by her mom.
Seema’s main fear in her adult life had always been one of “can I live up to her expectations?”
Drawing on Her Past
Seema recounted a story where, as a young girl in Nairobi, she attempted the greatest feat a young girl could. Desiring to emulate her mother, she determined to plan and prepare a surprise meal for her parents.
She waited for her parents to go out, then clambered up to the bookshelves to retrieve her mother’s cookbooks. A young Seema feverishly worked in the kitchen to ensure everything was just right. Then she nervously awaited their return.
On their return home, her parents were taken by surprise at all the work she had done. They eagerly devoured the meal and showered praise on her with smiles and hugs. Her father beamed as he said to her, “I am so proud of you bachcha (child), you did all this by yourself!” Words that Seema would tuck away deep in the recesses of her heart.
The Genting Cruises patrons, guests and crew were charmed and fed a royal meal inspired by Seema’s mother’s creations, royal palace banquet menus, mom’s cookbook recipes, and The Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Culinary Story via food! She produced dishes such as Yakhni Pulao, Angoori Pilau garnished with silver paper, bite size steamed Meatballs, Mughlai Akhbari King Prawns with Cashews and Cream etc.
Seema was invited a couple more times on these cruises as she gained popularity. She always dressed regally in her mother’s favorite colors of pink, purple and blue hues, adorned with South Sea pearls.
She did live up to her mother’s expectations and more so…
Seema, a new celebrity chef, was interviewed by late Vinod Dua, the award-winning journalist, on NDT. “Zainaab India Ka” is an iconic travel show, giving viewers a feel of street food. Covering Hong Kong’s wet markets, spices and of course Seema’s cooking demo. She recollected one of the recipes, “Oh, I made one of my favorites, before I became a vegetarian: Vodka flambé fillet of sole in a lemon infused spicy hot Goanese coconut curry!”
Never one to “sit on her laurels”, Seema’s company, Pranayum Hong Kong, launched the first Yogic Nirvana Teas
In 2020, Seema and her family relocated to Oxford, England. Upon settling into a new environment, facing the challenges of a pandemic, she did what she does best: immersing herself in a new community and giving of her time and many talents.
Seema has been a contributor to several publications, such as the Coffee & Conversations as well as Beyond the Boundaries magazines in the UK, in which she shares beauty concoctions, tips, and recipes on Ayurveda.
As an Ayurvedic Nutritionist and Beauty Therapist, Seema has recently curated Balinese Boreh Body Scrub. Her quest for learning and understanding wide interests is astonishing and much to be desired.
Besides delving into the branding of her health and beauty products, she has also been an active participant at Healing Our Earth as a Producer for Vegan Vegetarian Kitchen.
Founded during Covid, Healing Our Earth’s mission statement: to promote happier, peaceful, healthier, and inspired global communities by delivering multicultural, online edutainment. This idea was captivating and inspiring for Seema. She realized she was called to seva in this area at the moment and so she did, her inspirational recipes combining global flavors is her artisanal signature.
Seema’s fingerprints are gracefully and purposefully impressed in the areas that she practices seva. Her gift of hospitality knows no boundaries as she welcomes community, just like her mother, her role model did!
Philosophy: “When you do goodness, goodness comes back to you.”
Values: Time with her family, dining out, exploring, and traveling.
Parenting: “It is hard being a parent and even harder letting children make their own choices, but this is part of the wisdom that is learned by and from being a parent.”
Hero: “My mom!”
Philanthropy / charity: “Gift A Smile”, Afghan Refugees, Read Library International Association for Human Values UK.
Favorites; Banana boating, parasailing. Loves cooking.