Spice Up Your Life

FOR MOST OF us Brits, curry will feature on the dinner table at some point in the week, whether it be a take away or a homemade version.  Chilli Papas spice mixes aren’t only healthy, but create a far superior dinner than your normal take away or store bought curry paste.

Darren Mollan founded the company by accident in December 2010 when rushing around trying to rustle up something to feed his four hungry children.

As it happens, his sister-in-law came around to make a curry for New Year’s Day dinner and Darren’s wife Lynn suggested creating a pre-packaged spice mix with instructions on making a healthy curry.

I first met Darren a couple of years back while he was promoting Chilli Papas at a food festival.  He tells me what the venture has been like up to this point:

‘It’s been a rollercoaster of joy, elation and excitement against disappointment, frustration and stress!

‘What has really been amazing is looking back at what we started with: a £20 budget and one mix that we sent to friends on Facebook to sample.

‘Since then highlights have included our first food festival in Crail in 2011, having a celebrity chef like a sample and not believing it was cooked without oil.

‘We especially love meeting new and existing customers; that way you can engage, swap tips and really explain our company ethos.’

I’ve used Chilli Papas mixes a few times and always admire the balance of spices Darren has perfected in the blends.  It’s a real skill to be able to do something like that and I asked the man himself how he creates his mixes and about his passion for cooking:

‘I have been cooking curries for the past 16 years, initially using my Mum’s recipes and then adapting them to suit healthier eating. I have no professional cooking experience but just love to create food and experiment.

‘The original mix (Mandalay) was really created by accident and I perfected it over a six month period. I learnt from this and by guinea pigging the family.  We offer free samples to our Facebook fans to get more feedback and adjust accordingly.’

Recently, Chilli Papas launched a new Gurkha curry mix and Darren told me about the inspiration behind this new tangy and sour Nepalese blend:

‘This is a recipe from an old family friend who was a Gurkha soldier in the British Army. I found it in my Mum’s recipe book and adapted it to fit the Chilli Papas ethos.

‘I think family recipes like this offer a different taste experience for the whole family. In this case, it took a lot of experimenting to get it right, but we got there I think!’

Darren featured on BBC Radio Scotland’s Kitchen CafĂ© show a few months back and tells me what it was like cooking on the radio:

‘I was really nervous about cooking on the show as I'm a big fan, but when Penny Latin turned up she put me at ease straight away.

‘What made it very easy was that you end up chatting away about the cooking, the history and a little about Chilli Papas and time just flies. We even had a few laughs especially about a couple of unusual ingredients’

Whilst listening to the show, Darren finished off his curry by crushing some crisps and sprinkling them over the dish.  The presenters were a bit dubious about this at first but once they tasted the curry, really took to the idea:

‘It's all about adding crunch and an additional texture.  I wanted something neutral, that wouldn’t add another flavour like nuts would, so I tried crisps and it worked!’

I think it’s a great touch and often do it with my curries now and trust me - it works!

The great thing about Chilli Papas mixes are that they’re essentially one-pot dishes and really do suit, not just hectic family life, but everybody from busy working professionals to kids that like to cook.

The mixes come with an easy-to-use recipe printed on the card inside; perfect for even the most inexperienced cook.

One of the unique things about the curries is that they encourage oil free cooking, making them low fat and healthy; something that was very important to Darren when developing the product:

Darren is a regular at food festivals throughout Scotland
‘Being a child-friendly product was very important as we have four in our family.

‘As the product is so simple to cook, it’s very easy to get children involved with the preparation and mixing of the ingredients.

‘Our children often beg to be involved and, as well as teaching them where products come from, they'll learn about smell and textures too. This has led to many reviews stating how much they enjoyed using the mixes, from people who are good eaters to those who are fussy.’

Like Darren, encouraging children to cook and learn about food is something that I care passionately about.  Schools do very little these days and it is important to get kids started on the right foot when it comes to food.  What better way to do that than getting the kids cooking a healthy curry?

There are currently ten Chilli Papas mixes available. For a list of stockists and regular updates, check out the Chilli Papas Facebook at: www.facebook.com/redhotchillipapas