School of Indian Cooking

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The Colonel, Libya, Democracy and NATO.

On a similar theme to the last post on Japan and oil, one less immediately discussed consequence of the conflict in Libya and NATO intervention is the rise in oil prices. Various sources say that 1 million barrels of Libyan oil a day have been knocked off the global supply, upping barrel prices by $2.

Curbing despotic behaviour is costly in lives, infrastructure, resources and fuel for those directly involved on both sides.

For those not involved, especially many countries in Sub Sahara Africa, large parts of Asia, Central and South America it can cost lives through hunger and malnutrition, development,  political instability etc etc.

These are countries that often have their own dodgy leaderships and tyrannical rule but which tend not to have resources useful enough to warrant any intervention.

Post-Tsunami Japan

Bad days in Japan. Today the Prime Minister even ordered people in some areas not to eat leafy foods while some areas are banned from transporting food. Then there is raised iodine levels in the Tokyo water system. A lot has been made about how it is that a country so prone to earthquakes is so reliant on nuclear power but the fact remains that Japan is massively reliant on hydrocarbon sources  - two thirds of it's energy is based on gas,oil and coal. (In the UK we are 75% reliant on hydrocarbons). The Japanese government now has to make up the loss in power from the Fukushima power plant. It may be able to do this by boosting output from its other nuclear or hydroelectric plants. Or it will have to import more oil and gas. And maybe after the unfolding disaster in Fukishama Japan will reappraise its appetite for nuclear energy?

Maybe other countries will too. This unexpected Japanese dip into the global oil market will push the price up as will the cost of shipping the stuff. The Indian government has to set aside about $1billion in foreign exchange for every $2 rise in the price of a barrel of oil - money diverted from other uses Imagine then the problem facing poor countries  - power, fertilizers, transport all becomes more expensive and ultimately makes those countries reliant on food imports very vulnerable to supply shocks. The human context is increased hunger, food riots, malnutrition, increased child mortality...

Japan Earthquake

Like everyone I am shocked by the images coming out of Japan. It's almost impossible to comprehend the human toll and the terrible trauma being suffered in the aftermath of this devastation. What's more the quake will have long term implications for people both in Japan and outside. Land use will be a massive issue - thousands of people made homeless by the tsunami (and possibly even by the nuclear radiation) will have to be housed.

The flattened coastal towns look like they will not be ready to be redeveloped for many years to come - if at all. Which makes the footage of the saline oily sludge packed with hideous debris forcing its way across prime agricultural land also very tragic. Farm land in Japan is limited and an extremely precious resource. It's too early to say how much land will be affected but some of this land may never be used again, and just when the country will need to produce as much food as possible to feed a massive homeless population. It may even have to sacrifice existing farmland to create new urban centres. Japan used to be self-sufficient in many foodstuffs but with an increasing post-war population and a shift toward high-tech manufacturing, land available for agriculture decreased, as did the number of farmers.

Japan is fortunate in one sense - it hasn't pursued a policy of self sufficiency and imports large amounts of meat, rice and vegetables. Japan will inevitably be forced to import more food to make up the shortfall from what has been wiped out - all of which will have to be grown or raised elsewhere. Japan can afford to shore up its own food security but for poorer nations already suffering from high food, oil and fertiliser prices this earthquake may cause a spike in food prices that will spread even more bad news around the world.


My first memory of Haiti was in the 1974 World Cup. I can still remember a sense of excitement about the fact that this tiny Caribbean nation had made it to the finals. Sadly this achievement, and that of being the first black republic in the Western hemisphere after seeing off their colonial rulers, are probably the only highpoints of Haiti’s 200 years of existence. There’s never been much good news coming from Haiti. In more recent times, just when it was really bad, it suddenly got truly tragic.

Earthquakes are phenomena of the Earth’s crustal margins. Marginal is the existence that millions of Haitians have been forced to endure for far too many decades. The country needs cash, so with that in mind I joined forces with Jamie Oliver’s company to raise money for Haitians with a charity lunch.  A menu of onions bhajis, special rice, aubergine curry, potato curry and spinach daal was prepared with the help of 4 volunteers in just 3 hours, feeding about 70 people and raising over £400, with J.O. doubling the total. Sadly no matter what kind of new infrastructure the capital Port au Prince gets the reality for the vast majority of Haitians is one of poverty – ¾ of the population are considered ‘poor’ i.e. existing on around $2 a day while half of them are ‘extremely poor’ existing on less than $1 dollar a day.

The food riots of just a few years ago give an inkling of the stresses the poorest face from man made actions leave alone earthquakes. Recent policy on subsidies and biofuels had a disastrous effect on Haitians.  Speaking at the World Food Day summit in 2008, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that prices on some food items are "500 percent higher than normal" in Haiti. Chuck in the fact that the landscape of Haiti is heavily deforested and suffers from poor soil quality, for people fleeing Port Au Prince for the countryside, it’s like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

El Bulli

El Bulli is closing its doors in 2012 and 2013 so Ferran Adria can have a break. Rumour has it that the restaurant is to close forever and this a way of letting the public down gently. OK I admit it's the only 31 course meal I've ever been to and on the whole it was an extraordinary display of deliberately confounding dishes with nothing tasting or feeling as it might be expected to. Some courses were more bewildering than others -  a bowl of almond oil on water for example. Oyster leaf with shallots was totally freakish  - a leaf that tasted almost exactly of an oyster.

You get the picture that 'course' is not the right word in a meal that what was basically a series of foodybites. Brilliant in idea, texture, taste and execution, it did take me a while to get over the feeling that a steak and chips would be turning up next.  There were no chips. Nor any recognisable vegetables, not even the simple tomato salads Spain is famous for and certainly no meaty bits more substantial than pigs ears and tail. And dog. There were  plenty of extremely beautiful seaweeds however so we couldn't grumble.

If you didn’t manage to get a table for 2011 then here’s a few pics of scoff taken from last years 31 course dinner.

p.s. there was no dog

A cocktail starter - meet the mohito

then crunch on some rabbit ears

an introduction to shapes to come

the oyster leaf

and of course the old coconut number - served with curry powder.

Welcome to the Spice Monkey Blog

Spice Monkey is an Indian Cooking School in North London. You don’t have to be a culinary whizz or even know the first thing about spices, we’ll give you the skills and confidence to create great tasting authentic dishes time and time again.

From day to day cooking to the celebratory delicacies you’ll never find outside the Indian home, and even some of the legendary street food of Mumbai, this is cooking that will tantalize aficionados and novices alike. Each course revolves around preparing a complete Indian meal. Step by step we’ll unlock the secrets of combining the aromatic spices at the heart of each dish. It’s all hands on with the reward of a fantastic meal and a glass of wine to finish.

The day is all about learning the essential techniques to make your cooking instinctive and adaptable but Spice Monkey courses are also about meeting new people, having fun, cooking and talking about ... food.