Gideon Burrows is probably the last person you’d expect to have a penchant for chillies given that he has a stomach ulcer that can be aggravated by spicy food, but as chilliheads we sometimes just can’t help but satisfy our capsaicin needs.
Although he’d had a penchant for chillies for some time and considered himself a chillihead, it was after a chance visit to a chilli festival several years ago trying several chilli sauces that Gideon had an epiphany moment: there were many more people who like him had a craving for all things chilli. His curiosity to understand why this was the case made him embark on an expedition to find out more about these strange fruits that have become part of people’s lives and write a book about it.
Like a stereotypical Tarantino film the book opens at dramatic moment late in the overall story – at the Hertfordshire chilli festival where Gideon is about to partake in the de rigueur chill eating competition. After this opening sequence subsequent chapters provide the backfill to the story of his exploration of the chilli scene and how he ended up entering the chilli eating competition.
Essentially the book is a travelogue of Gideon’s exploits around Britain meeting a selection of chilli related artisans and personalities. Think of Gideon as a Karl Pilkington character or a Robbie Coltrane on a Raleigh bike – no Cadillac here! – travelling around Britain crafting a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Britain’s Chilli Scene, akin to the fictional Hitchhikers guide book as featured in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” franchise.
On his travels Gideon encounters a global dispersion of aficionados around Britain: Artisan sauce makers bringing Zambian, Caribbean, Nigerian and authentic Mexican culinary tastes to the masses; scientists and boffins studying the nature of chillies and experimenting with their horticulture; and the chilli devotees whose obsession for all things chilli banishes bland food from their diet – fanatical characters such as Chilli Dave, Dave MacDonald and Jim Booth from Clifton Chilli Club, Kankun Luchador and his alter ego Roland Cardena, and Tony Ainsworth aka Darth Naga.
Interspersed during his exploits of tasting sauces, chocolate, superhot chillies, extract and extreme chilli challenge curries, Gideon provides progress updates of his growing ventures (and his determination to get fruit from his favoured Habanero 7 plant). There’s even a generous dash of chilli history too.
‘Chilli Britain’ is an informative, enlightening book that gives the reader an insight into the eclectic and eccentric nature of the British chilli scene. The book’s light hearted prose and humour make it a very easy, enjoyable read. With a plethora of chilli cook books and horticultural books available on the market, it’s refreshing to be able to read something completely different about chillies.
If you’re a chillihead you’ll love reading more about some of the personalities on the scene like Darth Naga, who guides his new Padawan in the ‘poke and purge’ technique (use the fore finger Gideon!). And if you’re not a chillihead, see it as a Bluffer’s Guide book that quickly brings you up to speed with all things chilli related. Either way I highly recommend this book.
It would be great if Gideon could see his way to continue his exploration of the chilli community in Britain (including the rest of the UK) and produce a second volume, as the book only begins to touch the surface of the many characters that constitute this chilli community. With 600+ tons of UK grown chillies now being exported to countries traditionally associated with chillies such as India & Mexico, it’s definitely a burgeoning industry.
Chilli Britain is available for Kindle via Amazon & paperback from www.chillibritain.com for £9.99 with free P&P (sample chapter can be read here) and given the time of year of writing this review, it would make an ideal chilli themed Christmas stocking filler.