What is a Spicery?
Spicery is an ancient word literally meaning a place where spices are produced or stored. In the Age of Exploration, traders would talk of sailing to the Spiceries - the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the coasts of India where spices were originally grown. Back in Europe many grand houses had their own Spicery which was a separate office where the spices and the most valuable ingredients for the kitchens were stored.
It may be an old word but we're aiming to give it a bit of an update. All the colours we use in our packaging represent those same colours you see in the buildings as you travel around these spice-producing countries - all those vivid blues, reds and yellows painted on uncoated walls. We aim to capture some of that colour and vibrancy and produce products that make using spices easy, accessible and fun in our modern kitchens.
Centuries ago everyone knew that spices came from the Spicery, now we can all remember it again!
What do we do at The Spicery?
Although most of the work here is involved in actually producing the product each month - measuring, grinding and packing spices, then assembling orders and sending them out the door, the heart of it all is the test kitchen above the warehouse.
Here, development chefs cook every day, testing recipes which we enjoy for our staff lunch (or occasionally mid-afternoon, when it’s a dessert!).
We test the recipes over and over again before using them in our Legend books, Subscription boxes, Gift Boxes or Easy Recipe KIts (or using as seasonal blends or free samples!).
Where do the recipes come from?
The whole fun of what we do is bringing a bit of the wider world into your own kitchen - trying something new and recreating some of those amazing flavours from favourite places around the world. Everyone here is encouraged (and even incentivised as we pay staff bonuses to travel) to discover new recipe ideas from around the world . Recent travels have taken us to Bodinayakanur, India’s cardamon capital - Tamil Nadu - a wedding in Yucatan, a gourmet tour of Ghana, food and football in Marseilles, all over the world in fact … and that’s just within a year! The recipes and memories of food we've eaten overseas then go into our recipe development, and maybe turn up in future spiceboxes that arrive through your letterbox!
We also draw on the experiences and knowledge of our staff, many of whom were either born overseas, or have family links around the world. We employ lots of international students from the local universities to help at busy times, and they're often keen to show off their favourite dishes from back home, provide some insight or verify a taste so our recipes are as authentic as possible.
Alongside this, over the years we've built up a network of cooks and friends all over the world who send recipes, suggestions and feedback. These are individuals and chefs who we ask for advice, contribute recipe ideas or who assist our research when visiting the country.
Our link-up with Refugee Action and Bristol Refugee Rights has built this network even further so that we now have a group of new Bristolians originally from all round the world (Sudan to Kurdistan, Jamaica to Iran) who come in and cook with us from time to time. It's a project that has had so many benefits - from helping the refugees themselves feel more valued and integrated, to our staff learning more about their stories and experiences, to just the human value of sharing wonderful food together and getting to know each other.
The Story so far...
The company (originally called Sambava Spices) was started by James Ransome in 2003 in his spare room at home, with £5000 of his own savings. The money stretched to paying for a single metal table, a set of scales, a few gripseal polythene bags, a stereo, a small electric grinder and of course a few boxes of spices.
James had spent several years working as a chef in some of the top restaurants in the UK and Australia, together with long periods travelling around India and South-East Asia which really helped to fuel his interest in food from around the world, the people who produce it and the places it comes from.
He had his lightbulb moment while standing in a Marrakesh market having a conversation with a girlfriend about future life plans. In answer to a question about what on earth he was going to do with the rest of his life (at that point there was no obvious answer!), he looked around at all these incredibly beautiful, colourful, fragrant ingredients which are so full of mystery and romance and thought to himself ‘I'm sure I can do something with this!’
Although he'd worked as a chef, it quickly turned out that he wasn’t quite as expert in spices as he’d expected... but he did know that freshness is all-important so the business has always had the aim of grinding and blending our spices in small batches and selling them as quickly as possible to make the most of their magical scent and flavour.
The business started on a weekend stall at Green Park market in Bath with a few resealable bags of ingredients and some simple blends. In those days he had to use manilla wage envelopes or brown parcel paper as packaging because he never had enough money for ‘proper’ packaging, but nobody seemed to mind too much!
The mail order business slowly went from Order #1 (sent to James' Mum) to eventually include many of the best restaurants in the UK (the Fat Duck, Ottolenghi, Rick Stein and many others were all good customers over the years), and finally to a simple homemade website all funded from that initial investment.
From the start we've always focussed on creating completely new and innovative products that make cooking delicious food with freshly ground spices really easy and accessible to all. We were the inventors of the world's very first recipe kit subscription way back in 2004 (after realising the recipe kits we sold at the market could be made seasonal to fit the produce available, and then could be sent by post), and to date have sent well over 1million subscription boxes out to happy customers around the world.
We've developed hundreds of unique recipes over the years, and more recent times have seen us introduce the cookbook kit (which as far as we can tell is another world first!) - a combination of cookbook together with 4 specially created spice blends that can be used to make ANY of the recipes in the book.
As you'd expect, there are plenty of other big ideas bubbling away in the Spicery kitchen so watch this space as we continue to introduce new products and innovative new ways of making our ingredients fun and easy to use at home!
We’re now up to over 20 members of staff and more than 250,000 customers around the world. We aim to continue helping our customers discover new flavours, cook and share fantastic food from around the world. Hopefully there’s a lot more to come …