Born in Jodhpur, in northern Indian, Paul Babra has many fond memories of his mother and aunts making traditional chutneys, preserves and pickles, filling his childhood home with heady aromas. Even today, the smell of a particular spice blend or a taste of a carefully concocted chutney takes him right back to that kitchen in Jodhpur.
As an adult he left the wonderful aromas of his childhood behind and ventured to Canada to work for his brother’s marketing company. It was here he developed a flair for photography, photographing dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and President Moi of Kenya.
In 1994, just as he was about to cover the Commonwealth Games as an accredited photographer, love intervened and he met Rani. Abandoning the Games, he moved to the UK and married Rani, settling in Kent where she continued her work as an art teacher and Paul entered the civil service.
Within two years of marriage, Paul and Rani had started a small business supplying chilled takeaway curry to a wholefoods store in Canterbury. With bestsellers including Chana Masala, Bombay Aloo and Tarka Dal, Paul and Rani demonstrated that vegetarian food could taste sensational.
In 1997 Paul and Rani dipped their toes into outdoor events, selling curries, chutneys and savouries at a Canterbury music festival in the Dane John Gardens. Their food, coupled with their infectious enthusiasm, meant that they quickly developed quite a following, and they have participated in every Canterbury food festival since.
In 2001 Paul established the Canterbury Curry Club as a way of offering home-cooked delicacies to people in and around the city. Monthly events were held in restaurants and halls, with the Lord Mayor of Canterbury as patron. The Club proved most popular and through word-of-mouth Paul and Rani soon found themselves catering for private parties and functions as well.
In 2011 Paul took early retirement from the civil service, launching his Paul Babra range of chutneys in 2013 using flavours and spices which are truly evocative of his childhood in India.
Paul Babra chutneys are prepared in small, open-pan batches and use ingredients and spices seldom found in mass-produced products. The sweet–spice combinations are designed to complement common curry favourites, offering contrasting flavours and textures. In Paul’s view, it’s not just about taste – he believes that the spice mixes also have medicinal benefits. Turmeric, for example, is widely used in India as an anti-bacterial, antioxidant and as an aid to digestion.
Paul delights in developing recipes that contrast savoury and sweet, such as his delicious Carrot and Fennel Chutney, which has a good dose of chilli for an added kick. The sweetness of carrot has been used in sweets and puddings in India for many years, in much the same way as we bake carrot cake in the UK.
Paul and Rani have complemented their range of chutneys with dry spice mixes and savouries, all of which can found at farmers’ markets across Kent most weekends and direct from this website. A recent development is their collaboration with Faversham’s Brogdale Collections to create special spiced juices, including Pear & Rosewater, and Zingy Apple Juice.