Two of a kind: Magali and James

Categories: Behind the stalls

The pair from Spice Mountain on wanderlust, rare ingredients and hot fruit juices

Interviews: Viel Richardson
Image: Alice Mann

Magali on James
James started working with me almost two years ago. He sent an email asking about a job and I brought him in for a chat. It was clear very quickly that he would be a good fit for the stall. He is very passionate about spices. He has said to me on a number of occasions that when he was little, one of the things he dreamt of being was a spice merchant. I feel very fortunate, as he is really invested in what we do.

He loves food and is very adventurous in his approach. If, for example, he comes back with something from the Parma Ham and Mozzarella stand, you can bet it will be one of the more quirky and lesser known hams. In fact, he buys a lot of his ingredients from the Market. This is a great place for him to try out different ingredients

James cooks a fair bit for his flatmates and will take on recipes that are tricky to make. Recently he brought in some baklava which is complicated and time consuming, and it was absolutely gorgeous. He is always encouraging his friends to come to the stall and introducing them to new spices and flavours that he thinks they will enjoy. The more unusual a spice or ingredient, the more enthused he becomes about it. If someone asks for a spice we don’t have, James will go off and research it before coming to me and saying: “Magali, we have to get this.” And then he will badger me until we do.

Of all the things we sell—pretty much all of which he has taken home and tried—James seems to be particularly into peppercorns, like the Tellicherry from India or the wild forest pepper from Vietnam.

Magali and James

If there is a downside to working with James it’s that I’m always having to remind him to take his apron home to wash. The best things about working with him are he is very reliable, trustworthy and always smiling and has developed a lot of customer friends who come back to be served by him. And as an employer, knowing how much of a passion he has for what we do is a real bonus.

James on Magali
Magali has this incredible wanderlust, and Spice Mountain is a wonderful place for her to explore it. She can travel the world, bring those tastes and experiences back with her, and then share them with her customers. Because she wants her knowledge to be so wide-ranging, she doesn’t shy away from anything. Magali thinks of Spice Mountain not only as a shop, but as a library of spices, which she wants to be as comprehensive as possible.

Her knowledge of spices and their uses is off the chart. She makes all of the spice blends we sell. For the classics like garam masala or ras el hanout, she will research the basic recipe and then make her own, sometimes with a slight Spice Mountain twist. So, for example, chocolate goes well with chilli, so she puts carob powder—which has some chocolate-like qualities—in our chilli con carne spice blend. This gives the mix an extra finesse that sets it apart. There are others, like the chicken or beef seasonings, that she has invented herself.

The hardest thing about working with Magali is that there is always something else to do, some way of improving yourself. I’m always knackered when I get home at the end of the day! The best is that she trusts me, and it is nice to be trusted. Also, her communication is very good, so I’m always clear about what she wants and how she wants it done.

If I was going to buy her something from the Market it would be a hot juice from Chegworth Valley. She loves them. In fact, Spice Mountain pretty much runs on them.