Despite being born into an affluent family, Poonam rose above the bream to keep the family business empire valued at Ksh1.6 billion (USD14 million) afloat and running.
Poonam is a creative chef and marketing director of Madhu, a luxurious South Asian catering company. The family empire under her watch caters for over 400 events annually in the prestigious venues for the elite Asian wedding market and corporate world.
Born in Nairobi, she learnt the art of cooking from her father, Ball Madhu, and her mother, Krishna. Despite studying law, Poonam’s passion for cooking led her back into the kitchen.
She started her career in the legal field where she helped women access legal services but later made a career change that has since paid off for both her family and herself.
One of her notable achievements is being recognised as one of the 12 superwomen in 2019, a status she was awarded for her culinary skills and creative flair.
At the moment, she runs five fine-dining hotels across London, including The Grove, The Savoy, Royal Lancaster and most recently, The Dilly.
According to Forbes, her skills and passion have kept the family business running and at one time saved it from collapsing at the height of the pandemic.
The flourishing family business was started by her grandfather while working as a construction worker of the Railway line in Kenya.
“My grandfather was from an affluent Indian family, so there was never any pressure for him to actually do anything. He was passionate about cooking though. He found out from his uncle, who was trading silks and cloths, that there was an opportunity in East Africa for caterers.
“So my grandfather travelled to Nairobi, where the Brits had taken over a skilled workforce to build the railway from Mombasa to Nairobi and there was already a settled community of Asians. It turned out there was such an enormous demand for catering services at the time, that it didn’t take long for my grandfather to set up his own restaurant,” she stated in an interview.
The family business was forced to relocate following a regime change in Uganda that took a toll on their operations.
“My dad was one of 10 children. He learned to cook from my grandfather and how to change the ingredients slightly because it’s East Africa. That’s where Madhu’s unique fusion style was born. Then in the 70s, the Ugandan coup with Idi Amin hit Nairobi and everything started affecting the Asians there,” Poonam stated.
“They started nationalising big businesses and by that time, my grandfather had a hotel called the Brilliant Hotel. When he passed away, my father decided to move us all to Britain. My brothers and I were all born in Nairobi, so we were considered British overseas citizens and told that Britain would be the safest place for us.”
Poonam family moved to Southall in West London, which has a large Asian community. At the time, she was sixteen. The family had to sacrifice in order to restart the hotel that was founded in Kenya. This worked as they resumed operations in the UK but retained the name Madhu.
“Thanks to my dad’s point we have since been able to work in Clarence House, twice in Windsor Castle and twice in Buckingham Palace. I have done all the menus for His Royal Highness, Prince Charles. We have also been the first caterers at the House of Lords and at the House of Commons. Name all the top hotels here in London, we are contracted caterers or we are exclusive caterers,” she concluded.