Julian Amery is perhaps a symbol of our new complex world. He was raised in the U.K. and was drawn to Buddhism while travelling in Nepal and Tibet. He then set up a spice shop called ASA (pronounced like the Hindi “asha”, hope) in Denmark, and trades in spices in India. He can dissect the ingredients of paani puri and describe the smell of hing. He can also make garam masala.
Amery was a restaurant manager first and a stagiaire (a cook who does an unpaid apprenticeship under a well-known chef), before he set out on his spiritual quest. In 2008, he left London on a solo trip East. He was in Baltistan and Amritsar, crossed the Khumbu Glacier and experienced Mount Kailash. He camped on a Goa beach for five months. After two years of wandering and adventure, he returned with images and tastes of the journey. That’s how ASA was born (www.asatrading.dk)
Where did spices enter the picture? And why did he return to India? “I love the intensity of things. I want to discover the essence of things,” he says.
Amery also realised that he could offer quality. “Not everyone was doing it (spices) well. They were mixing good quality products with the not-so-good. I bring good production and hygiene. The bottomline is, does is taste nice? Is it harmonious? Spice is like music; there must be harmony among the various notes.”
Amery says his trade works in consonance with his Buddhist faith. “According to the eight-fold path, we must choose a livelihood that does not harm anyone. My organisation sources directly from the growers; it’s a fair-trade organisation. And, we reinvest profits into sustainable development work — my first project is to set up improvised cooking stoves in the North East,” he says.
Amery knows his spices. “Do you know that salty dalchini originated in Burma? It’s called cassia. It has a hot, loud note. I’d use it in a savoury dish, like a stew. The more crumbly cinnamon, grown commonly in Sri Lanka, is subtler, sweeter and fruity, great for a dessert,” he says.
In his stores in India (Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, and shortly in Pune and Gurgaon), he stocks whole cinnamon quills from Sri Lanka, vanilla pods from Uganda, smoked paprika from Spain, pink pepper from the Camargue, juniper berries and blue cornflowers from Scandinavia... There are stone-ground bespoke masalas too. He offers sambhar, garam, chai and tandoori masala blends. “In India, the masala changes every 200 km,” he says.
So, where did his fascination with India begin? Back home in North West London, when he ate his first Indian meal. “My father, a doctor, made a barter deal with one of the Indian restaurant owners — he would do his surgery and we could eat at his restaurant every month. My first meal was butter naan and daal,” smiles Amery. ”
…The bottomline is, does is taste nice? Is it harmonious… spice is like music. There are various notes to it and there must be harmony.