Referred to as the “Indiana Jones of spices” by celebrity chef Eric Ripert, Nirmala Narine has built a brand and career on her love of prized aromatics from around the world. She’s traveled to over 165 countries to source them from farmers firsthand and has spent a lifetime educating people on how to incorporate them into their lives.
She’s a syndicated TV show host, author, and teacher, and the founder of beauty and spice purveyor Nirmala’s Kitchen Inc. With the rest of her time, she is a consultant to Fortune 500 companies on global trends in flavor, food, culture, and fragrance.
Now she’s adding to her spice world by opening her picturesque farm in the Hudson Valley to the public. And you guessed it—there’s a spice shop on the farm.
Narine’s New Paltz-area property is a former working dairy and rodeo site from the 19th century. Her beautifully restored barn and abutting chicken coop sits atop a rolling hill surrounded by a meadow. Her shop is close to the road, where a colorful sign hints to passersby of the magic that awaits them inside.
Narine feels there is not enough color in American cuisine, and she wants to give cooks more options. That is why she fills her store with high-quality and rare spices, salt blends, spiced grains, homemade soaps, teas, lavender, blueberry jam, and ghee.
To visit is to be inspired to explore. Luckily, her cookbooks are available for a detailed how-to on cooking with the likes of Oman black limes, Alpeppy turmeric, or Mysore green peppercorn.
When I visited, Narine served up treats including a punchy quinoa salad spiked with cumin, turmeric, and Malabar spinach, a distant cousin to English spinach that Narine grows in her garden.
Along with it came a beautifully paired eggplant dip, cheese, and Witch Finger grapes—a rare and deliciously sweet variety of black grapes grown in California.
True to Herself
Nirmala’s love for spices comes from growing up in Guyana, where she used to help her grandfather, an ayurvedic scholar, dispense medicine to the villagers. The medicine was in the spices.
Using what is called a masala brick, Narine would grind up the spices recommended by her grandfather and pack them in lotus leaves.
Ayurveda is known in India as the science of life. It relies on distinguishing an individual’s unique constitution and then prescribing food, spices, and herbs to create balance, both internally and externally.
“Food is not about fashion or trends,” said Narine, whose father was a farmer and mother was a sugarcane cutter. “It is about survival.”
Narine was 11 years old when her family immigrated to the United States, where they settled in the cultural melting pot of Queens.
After early success as a marketing professional working in the oil industry, Narine had an epiphany that changed her life.
It happened in Zanzibar, while she was climbing a clove tree. She put a clove into her mouth and was reminded of her grandfather. He used to always keep cloves in his shirt pocket to chew on for good breath and healthy teeth. As a child, she would push her face against his shirt and the heady scent of cloves would comfort her.
“I should start a global spice company,” she suddenly thought, and Nirmala’s Kitchen was born.
Narine combines her spice journeys around the world with humanitarian work supporting orphanages in Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Venezuela, and Columbia through her Nirmala Global Village Foundation. She teaches the children about organic farming, entrepreneurship, and empowerment for a better future.
A Change of Season
These days Narine is busy with the fall garden harvest, which includes edible nasturtium flowers, a rare bitter melon from Southeast Asia, and a budding field of lavender.
She’s thinking ahead to the Spice Suppers she will present to her guests this fall and winter, when she will match her global spice pantry to the abundance of Hudson Valley farmers’ fields and pastures.
The suppers, and her cooking classes, are private affairs at her sprawling, modern ranch-style home for groups of up to 12.
She’s also dreaming of which countries she will visit next, and what discoveries each will offer up so she can “bring home the exotic” and share it with all of us.
690 New Paltz Rd.