Boom Kitchen's Jim & Carl talk spice with Taste Buds Magazine

What inspired you to start a spice business?

Carl

I fell in love with spicy food on my travels. I used to be a software developer and spent my early career seeking out temporary contracts that would help me get out of Luton and experience the world (no offence to Luton).

I spent the best part of 15 years globetrotting and while I didn't keep a diary I did make a point of collecting recipes everywhere I went. Most of them bribed off chefs and guest house owners and scribbled on random scraps of paper and torn out pages of the lonely planet.

It was only after I settled down in North Devon and got a kitchen of my own that I got the chance to revisit the recipes.

I can't describe how amazing it was to re-create the flavours from my travels. It was like the aromas from my frying pan were taking me back to the streets of Penang, the beaches of Thailand and jungles of Sumatra.

I couldn't get over how simple the dishes were to create. Once all the prep was done; the various spices ground, pastes mixed and coconut grated and measured, I could knock up my favourite dishes in minutes. There was no comparison between these scratch cooked dishes and the bland, gloopy 'Asian' chuck-in sauces in my local supermarket so yeah... I thought I might as well have a go and take the big boys on.

Jim

No romantic stories about bribing guest house owners from me I'm afraid. I’m just your average bloke who love’s a curry!

I do remember the first time I tried one of Carl’s curries though. It was a Beef Rendang and it was so delicious, I couldn’t believe that he’d cooked it.

I asked him for the recipe and he reeled off a list of exotic ingredients as long as my arm, each with a side note about the flavour it bought to the dish. I just remember finding it all really interesting.

If there was Eureka moment for me it was the idea that every curry lover needs a friend like Carl. All we needed to do was to package his recipes and the more exotic ingredients into a format that would help an idiot, spice novice like me cook a tasty, healthy dish I could be proud of.

What’s good about spices and why should we use more of them?

Carl

Guilt free pleasure! Most things that are pleasurable in life are bad for you or illegal. Not spices. They just make food and drink so much more interesting and pleasurable.

Jim

I agree but would probably take it a step further and say why stop at guilt free. I was at a New Years party at Carl's house and he was mixing gin with apple juice, cinnamon and star anise then nuking it in the microwave. A simple, fun and delicious winter cocktail!

How do you think the British public’s relationship with spice has changed in recent years?

Jim

I think Brits have always had a healthy appetite for spice but in recent years we’ve started to seek out more adventure in the kitchen and a deeper understanding of the ingredients we use and techniques needed to get the best out of them.

It may sound crazy but I think a key factor driving our sense of culinary adventure is the demise of the night out.

Staying in has been the new going out for a while now but what's changed is I think Brits have learned to stay in - in style. Carl and I built Boom Kitchen on nights-in; drinking craft beer, watching breaking bad and random youtube clips while fine tuning our recipes. At the time we were conscious that the product we were trying to create wasn't just a combination of spices. For us it was all about the cooking experience. In our minds we were competing more with Indain Restaurants and the Friday night take away than we were with the likes of Loyd Grossman. In our mind if your curry from the local take away was better than ours we didn't stand a chance of building a business, let alone a brand.

5 years on and we’re still here, so I guess we are living proof that Brits have an appetite to cook with fresh spices and if the sales of our new Sri Lankan curry kit are anything to go buy they are also eager to experiment with new cuisines.

Carl

Another thing is Brits are far more health conscious then they used to be. They know that excess sugar, salt and additives go hand in hand with mainstream sauces and ready meals which is why more Brits aspire to cook from scratch, whether that's with their own spices or a helping hand from us.

What does ‘spicy’ mean to you?

Jim

I spose to me it means how much chilli there is in something. The more chilli the spicier. If you want to get nerdy a chap called Wilbur Scoville created a scale to measure the relative spiciness of chillies - if any of your readers are interested they should check out the Scoville Scale.

Most people tend to have an idea of where they sit on the Korma, Tikka, Jalfrezi and Vindaloo scale.

I hate the idea of people pigeon holing themselves as a Korma person and potentially missing out on a world of different flavours and more subtle sensations of heat.

Many people have had bad experiences with dishes that have had too much chilli powder added to them. I try and encourage these people to experiment with chillies. Either by substituting chilli powder in recipes with a whole chilli or by adding a whole chilli where they normally wouldn't. Chucking a whole dried Ancho or Chipotle into a Shepards pie is a revelation.

Carl

Our spiciest curry kit is our Lady Naga recipe. She gets her name from the whole Naga chilli inside rated 800,000 to a 1 mil on the Scoville Scale. Eat the chilli and it's gonna bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened chilli head and leave most average people adopting the faetal position. But if you just leave it whole and let some of it's magic diffuse into your dish while it cooks you'll end up with a gorgeous flavour and a slow building heat. Where chilli powder burns in your mouth the heat you get from the Naga Chilli is like someone's turned up the thermostat up on your body's central heating.

What tips can you give on cooking with spice?

Carl

Most important tip is to remember to enjoy yourself. Find a format of using spices that you enjoy.

Fresh is definitely best. To appreciate this fully you should add making some of your own fresh ground spices to your bucket list. Even if you then decide it’s not for you it’s definitely worth investing in a small coffee / spice grinder to find out.
If you're interested in learning more about spices it's also great to see what the spices look like in their none powdered form.

If that proves a bit much try a kit like ours that allows you to enjoy cooking a dish with a combination of fresh whole and ground spices without having to source lots of different ingredients only to watch them lose their mojo and take up space in your cupboards.

My final tip would be to prep all your ingredients before you cook with spices. It means you can kick back and really enjoy cooking experience and soak up those aromas. It also means your less likely to burn them.

Jim

I know Ottelnghi (world respected Spice guru) says try and immerse yourself in one single cuisine. If you have the discipline I think that's great advice as it will teach you about proven spice combinations and how to build different dishes with subtle variations.

I love Nick Coffer's (My Daddy Cooks) Mexican Lasgane recipe as it shows how the addition of a couple of spices (cumin, coriander, oregano and cinnamon) can give a completely different twist to a dish you are familiar with. I love adding a dried Ancho chilli to that recipe too.

If you fancy a bit more variety there's a great book called Spice Yourself Slim by Kalpna Woolf that give you recipes for different spice blends for cuisines all over the world, so that's worth having in your locker.

As a late comer to using spices my tip would be to experiment! Crush a couple of Cardamom and add it to your coffee or hot chocolate. Sprinkle some cinnamon on your porridge and grate an apple into it. Introduce some turmeric and saffron to Sunday's roast chicken and see what your gravy taste's like.

What common mistakes are made?

Jim

I'd say using too much. What you're trying to do with spices is add layers of flavour to your dish, not completely over power the other ingredients.

Carl

We all know we should taste food as we go. One mistake is to add ground spices to a sauce in attempt to try and enhance the flavour. You will get some flavour that way but it's worth remembering that all the flavour, even in ground spices, is locked in as oil at a molecular level. The best way to get that oil and flavour out is to fry the spices off (in oil). So if you think your dish needs a bit more oomph in a certain department you're better adding a table spoon of oil to a pan and then frying off the spice/s before you add them back into your sauce / dish.

Which is your favourite spice and why?

Carl

Cumin, I just love the aroma when I'm grinding it. That sounds odd I know.

Jim

I'm going to be boring and say green cardamom. When I was young I hated them but now I feel I've hit the jackpot when I find one in my curry. I'm also a bit of a tea and coffee nut and am partial to chucking a couple of cardamom in to those too.

It's not my favourite but I have a new fascination with tamarind. I was at a Syrian deli / cafe called Damascena in Moseley Birmingham last week and had a tamarind and rose water juice - it tasted like an earthy Coca Cola.

What’s your most popular product?

Carl

It's our Tikka Tarka Masala - like a Tikka but a little 'otter (a little nod to our Devon roots there), closely followed by our new Sri Lankan recipe.