Man of Fire and Spice – An Interview with Arun Kapil
The life and career of Arun Kapil is as varied, colourful, and impressive as the contents of his spice cabinet. He swapped a glamorous, fast-paced, but unscrupulous and scandalous life in the music industry to become founder of award-winning spice company Green Saffron, spice virtuoso and cookbook author. After meeting with this charismatic character it’s clear, as he strives to become the world authority on spices and expand Green Saffron globally, that this intriguing tale is far from over.
The son of a Hindustani father and Yorkshire mother, Arun grew up in the steel town of Scunthorpe. But after a private education he hotfooted it to London with his school friends. “We had this fantasy of London life in mind, but we made it a reality”, says Arun. With buckets of charm and luck, but no experience, he found himself waiting tables in Ronnie Wood’s restaurant; his first taste of the food industry, as well as an initiation into a glamorous world. “Everybody who was any body at the time walked through the doors, even Michael Jackson. That was my introduction to London life”.
At the same time, having been in a band at school, Arun continued to pursue his passion for music and at nineteen he established his own label. From there he says “everything I touched turned to gold”. As an avid member of the rave scene, Arun conceived the idea of taking the DJs from the field and putting them in the studio. He went on to run clubs in London and Ibiza and launched the first ever DJ compilation album. “So you might say me and my team started that whole trend whereby DJs work as producers”, Arun concedes, as well as humbly acknowledging that he founded acts such as The Sugababes, All Saints, and The Streets.
But the appeal of fortune and success began to wear thin. “It was fun. When you are younger you can’t imagine doing anything else. But as you get older, you start to see different things, the seedier side of life, and you get a bit bored of having your life threatened everyday, of being hungover, of the superficiality”.
In 2004, as an antidote to the excesses of his life, Arun found himself enrolled in the Ballymaloe Cookery School. “What I wanted to do was to clean my head up, put myself on the track, and just challenge myself. So, I ended up in the middle of nowhere, sharing a room with a guy I had never met, and I loved it” . Arun says that love extended to Ballymaloe, its ethos, to the Irish people and most notably to a local girl called Olive. Now married, Olive continues to play a big part in what came next, Green Saffron.
Sourced through family and friends in India, Arun asserts that he happens to be able to access spices better than anyone else in the world. These spices are roasted and blended in Midleton, and used to produce Green Saffron’s range of spice blends and sauces. After navigating the murky waters of the music industry, Arun was determined that if he was going to work in the food industry “it had to be done for the right reasons”.
Although Green Saffron has a global ambition, most recently launching into the French market, Arun maintains that it “will always stay true to its core values, which are honour, integrity and flavour”. For him this means continued use of “spices of the highest quality, that are directly farmed, and no chemicals, no water in the sauces. It’s the best they can possibly be”.
The success of Green Saffron has opened doors for Arun in to the kitchens of some of the world’s best known chefs, including Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi and Eric Chavot. Arun believes that learning from these chefs allows him to bring more knowledge into his company and into Ireland while also inspiring new product development and contributing to his ever expanding knowledge of spice. “I don’t read books. When I was eight years old I said to myself, I don’t want to learn through other people’s words. For me I was happy learning from people”.
In his first book, Fresh Spice, Arun shares some of the immense knowledge he has accumulated in his varied career path, and his spice ethos is explored. For Arun, spice is much more than heat, it is flavour and character. “For me, spice is my thing. I am about flavours. I am constantly banging the drum that spice is just about bringing out the nuances in food, not to overpower”.
Keen not to be pigeon holed as an Indian chef, Arun promotes the use of spices far beyond the Indian cuisine. “I was teased when I was younger for not being Indian by the Pakistanis and by the British for not being British. I’m a blend, from day one. India and England”.
His attitude towards spice and flavour extends to Green Saffron, where his vision is to position the brand as spice specialists. “Green Saffron is trying to create its own niche. I want to be so innovative that competitors can’t keep up with our pace. I am absolutely proud of my Indian heritage, but to make my point of difference, we are spice specialists. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a Peruvian blend, a Mexican blend”.
Arun reveals there is a new book in the pipeline, and divulges details of his latest venture, a TV series due to air in 2016 with RTE. “This will be a ground breaking project for Ireland, shot in Ireland and India, structured on food and spice. I am not a chef, I am a home chef who knows a lot about spice, so lets have fun with that”.
The programme will offer Arun the ultimate platform to champion spice and, in addition to global ambitions for his company, with a string of pop-ups, festival and TV appearances lined up, it seems there is no stopping Arun on his mission to become the Man of Spice. But Man of Fire? Arun discloses, “since a young age I always have had a birds eye chili with every meal. I bite into a chili and eat it with my teeth”. So, while he maintains spice does not necessarily equate fire, it certainly plays a role in the spice of Arun’s life.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after a brief dalliance with law, she completed a Masters degree in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.