AN ANGLO-INDIAN former hospital chaplain, turned curry entrepreneur, has received an invitation to demonstrate his innovative curry method by cooking at a food-awards ceremony in China next year.
The Revd Ken Mathers spent most of his ministry in hospital chaplaincy, but said that he felt burned out by 2010. He decided to start a new career away from the Church — by drawing on his Indian roots and launching a business selling do-it-yourself curry kits.
“I had to find something else to do, but in the local area of North Devon, because my wife was the parish priest. I thought: could I utilise my ancestry and my inherited gifts?”
He had the idea of creating kits that would include all the spices and base ingredients necessary to create restaurant-quality curries, but in the microwave at home.
Inspired by Indian restaurants, which typically make up a large batch of base curry sauce each week, Mr Mathers spent months experimenting before finding a way of turning this base sauce into a dried form that would last a year.
“Nobody had succeeded in making anything like this before without any additives,” he said. The powdered sauce is combined with different spice mixes, and the customer has to simply add fresh ingredients.
The mix is distinct from normal ready-meal curries, which are prepared with fresh ingredients sometimes months before they are sold; so the flavours have dissipated.
“I find that after a few months of storage a sauce will lose its zing and distinctiveness: it becomes bland. With my kits, none of the spices are cooked until the customer cooks them; so you get the full vibrancy every time.”
A chance encounter with the food writer Jenny Mallin led Mr Mathers to cook one of his curry kits in his Bideford factory as a demonstration. Ms Mallin was so impressed by the result that she contacted Gourmand International, which runs the “Oscars” for the cookbook industry.
Within 24 hours, Mr Mathers had been invited to cook 30 curries a day for 12 days at next year’s awards in Yantai, China. “I was very surprised, to say the least,” he said. “It was totally out of the blue.”
Although he admitted that the prospect of cooking for some of the food industry’s makers and shakers was “overwhelming”, Mr Mathers said that he was determined to use the opportunity to expand his business and make his curry kits available nationwide.
Despite his unusual career-move, Mr Mathers said that his curry business allowed him to continue his priestly vocation in some form. “I have gone from ministering to people’s souls to ministering to their stomachs.”