London Produce Show and Conference demonstration chef Hari Ghotra has clearly been busy since taking part in the trade event in June, with the launch of an innovative range of Indian curry kits for home cooking. Produce Business UK caught up with the cookery teacher and chef to find out more as she seeks to build on her brand
“My whole premise is teaching people how to cook authentically from scratch by making it easy,” says Ghotra, who as well as running cookery classes in people’s homes is also a guest chef at the Tamarind Collection, which includes the Michelin-starred Tamarind of Mayfair restaurant.
“But I don’t believe in convenience food; it is not about just opening a jar of ready-made sauce. It is about the whole theatre of the kitchen; getting people to grind their own spices and so on.”
By going into people’s homes with her cookery classes, Ghotra discovered that her clients are wary of using spices simply because they don’t know how and when to use them or which combinations work best.
That’s why the entrepreneurial Ghotra has launched her range of 12 curry kits. Each costs £3.50 and contains spices in enough quantities to cook a meal for at least four people. The kits include spices in individual bags with full instructions, including the order in which they need to be put in the pan – just as a traditional Indian chef would. And while some of the names are very familiar to anyone who has been to an Indian restaurant – Tikka Masala, Madras and Korma – others are less well known such as Xacuti and Makhani.
There are 30 different herbs and spices available across the range. Madras, for example, is made up of four separate bags. Bag one contains coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, white poppy seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, fennel seeds, cassia bark and cloves. Bag two has turmeric and chilli powder. Bag three features mustard seeds and curry leaves and bag four contains tamarind.
“The kits are very versatile and not purposefully specific to a certain protein or meat,” explains Ghotra, adding that they can even be used without any protein at all. “Pakora is a vegetable fritter and the kit can be used with onions, courgettes, or cauliflower. The Tandoori mix could be used with cauliflower or broccoli florets, and Madras with turnips, butternut squash or even juicy mushrooms.”
Each kit also comes with a QR code directing consumers back to Ghotra’s website where they can access step-by-step recipe videos; making the experience of cooking Indian food even more interactive and fun.
Finding similar-minded supply chain partners
The range is available for sale via her website but Ghotra is already exploring other retail avenues. “It is all about getting them across the digital space, so I am in discussions with various online retailers,” she says. “I am trying to build links with people who have the same ethos as me – who care about the products [they use] and love what they do.”
This is more important to Ghotra than forging ahead into the mass market at all costs. For instance, she sees great potential in linking up with home-delivery vegetable-box retailers as well as online butchers.
And the same holds true of her relationships with suppliers. “The key thing when I look at sourcing is finding people who care about what they are doing,” she says. “I try to find great produce that is nicely produced by people who care.”
For this reason Ghotra sources from local farm shops when she can as she believes it is very important to support these business, as well as “keeping things seasonal” and using produce when it’s in its prime. She’s well known with local allotment owners and sometimes finds they have left their produce on her doorstep.
But for those items not commonly grown on British farms, such as okra or bitter gourd, Ghotra turns to local Indian grocers. Indeed, she is finding that today’s consumers are much more adventurous in their keenness to try these lines than people were during her own childhood growing up in Wolverhampton.
“People are definitely a lot more willing to try new food nowadays,” she explains. “When we used to invite people round when I was a child, they wouldn’t even taste something if they weren’t familiar with it. Now at my classes, people are asking me how to make a dish with okra or bottle gourd, for example.”
Other trending products that the Midlands entrepreneur has noticed are bitter gourd, coriander, drumstick gourd and aubergine. “We are also seeing more mainstream lines being used in different ways such as asparagus or butternut squash to make a vegetable biryani. It’s not just a case of opening a bag of frozen vegetables, but using some of these other vegetables and putting a different twist on them.”
Cooking up excitement
Looking ahead, Ghotra wants to see people getting more fresh produce on to their plates and feeling even more excited about cooking. “I think as a nation where we are falling down is that people are not learning to cook with their families,” she says. “If you don’t cook with your kids at home, they won’t do it when they grow up.”
She warns that without prompt action the UK risks turning out a whole generation that does not understand where vegetables come from, and worse that cooking is just “getting something out of the freezer and shoving it in the oven”.
But Ghotra does have some answers too: “You have to get children enjoying the process,” she advises. “Getting them excited about growing food – there are a lot of community projects out there – and also going shopping with your children and asking them to put things in the basket themselves.”
Looking ahead, Ghotra has plenty to keep her busy and describes the curry kits as “just the starting block”. Next on the horizon could be a fine-dining range and maybe even a budget one. Either way, Ghotra aims to encourage people into their kitchens to enjoy cooking and eating authentic Indian food with their families.