Two Belgians are on an interesting mission to add some zing to European cuisine. Their range of Indian spices and masala mixes is gaining popularity in Belgium
Christopher Lambert is nursing a cold. “Ginger will help me,” he says, requesting for a cup of ginger lemon tea. Coming from a Belgian, this know-how of a traditional Indian ginger remedy for cold is impressive. But then Christopher, a former banker and journalist, and his friend chef Alain, are not new to Indian food and food habits. Their interest in the country, its people and ways have familiarised them to even to the little black peppercorn that fires the rasam. Now they are popularising our spices and masala mixes in Belgium, their motherland.
Their newly introduced range of Indian spices, The Travellers Spice Mix Blend, is fast finding its way on to plates there. Their Christmas gift box of 10 spice blends was sold out and they are inundated with mails and calls, asking for more. In Kerala, to source the best spices and to take a group of their countrymen on a culinary familiarisation tour, is what brings them to Kochi this time.
Christopher has an interesting story to tell about their food adventure. It began with his own story, one of a banker who quit his job to travel and write stories for magazines and dailies. At one point he was reporting about life and stories from India for several dailies. Banaras first and later Uthani in Tamil Nadu (between Kumbakonam and Thanjavur) became the focal points of his life here. He developed an emotional connect with the towns and began doing social work there. In Uthani, he runs an orphanage. To cater to the children at the orphanage, he was assisted by Chef Alain Vanden Abeele, also from Belgium. The two stared holding events where Indo-European food became a highlight. In 2010, the two along with two others came up with a coffee table book, Masala that has 75 recipes, photographs and related text narrating the desi food story.
“People’s mindset regarding food is changing the world over,” says Christopher about the openness regarding food that has come about globally. In his country too he senses the change elaborating that chefs are using a lot of mint and fresh coriander in their food now. But this newfound willingness he says met with a hitch—the unavailability of ingredients. Christopher realised the need and immediately introduced Indian spices.
The right mixes
Initially The Travellers, the company floated by Christopher and Alain in Bruges, Belgium, launched the four major masalas—sambar, garam, tikka and vadouvan (Indo- French spice mix). “I believe the making of a masala is not mathematics. It is a learning process. Every chef and person has the freedom for their own personal signature, which makes it very nice to work with them. Making a dish with spice is more of a question of daring. If you dare to use good spice you will always enrich your plate,” says Christopher, giving an example of how ginger seems to be adding a new zing to the European stew. “It may not be a new dish but it is certainly a new experience. We would like to bring some enthusiasm in daily cuisine in Europe.”
Andives, a typical Belgian vegetable which is conventionally flavoured with nutmeg, is now being rustled up with garam masla, to good results. “We want to give that small extra touch,” he says disclosing that their package contains detailed information on origin of the spice, an easy recipe and its uses. The product is done by their friend and designer Steven Theunis.
The spice kits have garnered so much interest and enthusiasm that a praline making chocolatier is set to introduce cardamom in them. The duo, excited at their experiments and response, are now wishing to try on spices in different kind of products like masala soaps, candles and oils.
The Indian spices have arrived and how!
In 2006 Christopher stared culinary group trips where he takes a group on a plantation visit .The guests are treated to a visit on the farm where they interact with farmers, enjoy hands on framing and engage in cookery demos. They are encouraged to roast and pound and make a masala. “We tell them about the medicinal benefits of the spices, like ginger for cold and turmeric as an antiseptic,”says Christopher, taking a sip of ginger lemon tea for his cold.