At 11.56pm Kalpana Laitflang pressed ‘send’, submitting her entry for the Cuisine Artisan Awards, a mere whisker ahead of the midnight deadline.

It wasn’t that she had any doubts about the quality of her product – Mixed Roots Hot Stuff Curry Oil – but she didn’t think it would win. “I know it’s been really popular but I thought, ‘Is mainstream New Zealand – which is very meat, potato and three vege – ready to take on and acknowledge something so left field as a winner?’” The answer was a definite ‘Yes’.

Kalpana describes Hot Stuff Curry Oil as the love child of Indian pickles and Asian chilli oil – every jar packed with the texture and taste of chunky, crunchy spices spluttered in red-hot oil to give smokiness.


Kalpana’s grandmother’s mango pickle prompted the flavour profile of Hot Stuff Curry Oil. Mustard seeds, nigella seeds, cumin, coriander and fennel are coarsely ground so they still retain crunch and texture, heat comes from chilli flakes, and Kashmiri chilli adds fragrance and a beautiful red colour. Dried mango powder gives acidity and it’s rounded off with organic coconut sugar to balance the heat and spice.

“It’s not a kill-you heat,” Kalpana says. “It’s a nice, slow build-up of heat that makes your mouth sing, but at the same time you experience all the flavours and textures of the spices. I always have to tell people that there’s a difference between heat and spice. People say, ‘We don’t like spice’ so a big part is educating people that spice adds flavour and texture, depth and fragrance.”

As well as family taste memories, Kalpana drew on her instincts to develop the product. “It’s a bit like an artist can see the picture in front of them, then they can paint it. I think of food and flavours and textures, and I know what I want it to taste like, how I want it to feel in my mouth and I know what I need to do to make that happen.” TRACY WHITMEY