DO you know your cardamom from your cumin? Or that asafoetida - a compound commonly known as 'devil's dung'  - can stop that bloating feeling after a curry? And do you know how to add spices without burning them?

If you are shaking your head to any, or all, of these questions - and love Indian food - then get your apron on and prepare to rattle some pots and pans at York's best curry school.

That glorious title belongs to Sharmini Thomas - York's very own Curry Queen.

Sharmini has run her popular Sharmini's Inspirational Indian Cuisine for more than 16 years. It has been recognised as the Nation's Best Curry School of 2023.

The school operates out of Joseph Rowntree School in York but now she is also offering team-building Indian cookery sessions at The Grand, York's only five-star hotel which has its own cookery school and state-of-the-art facilities.

Sharmini invited me along to sample one of her classes at The Grand.

York Press: Tutor Sharmini Thomas shows off her perfectly cooked onionsTutor Sharmini Thomas shows off her perfectly cooked onions

After a coffee to perk us up and focus the mind, all nine pupils perched on high stools around the main kitchen counter to listen to Sharmini explain about different spices, how to layer them, and watch her prepare our first dish - a deep red and lusciously creamy butter chicken curry.

Branded aprons were handed out and we all headed to our stations to try to replicate the dish - which was to be our lunch.

There were two stages to go at simultaneously: browning onions and chicken pieces in sunflower oil and butter and, in a separate pan, cooking down fresh tomato until it turned into a soft, pulpy mess.

Added together, they made the most delicious curry dish I'd ever created.

Curry made, we moved on to make the accompanying vegetable pilau rice.

This was a revelation for me - normally I just make plain boiled basmati rice to eat with my curry at home.

York Press: Making the butter chicken and pilau rice at The GrandMaking the butter chicken and pilau rice at The Grand

But Sharmini's recipe was ten times better thanks to the addition of butter, spices and lots of teeny chopped veg (and yes it is OK to use frozen veg in this recipe).

Once ready, we scooped heaps of the rice and curry into large white bowls, scattered some chopped coriander on top, and headed to the dining area to tuck in.

Silence descended the room as we devoured our creations. Sharmini came round all of us, offering a spoon of her own dish. It was a slightly deflating moment, as her curry was so much tastier! This was on account of it having more tomatoes in the sauce. I quickly wrote a note in the recipe book that was provided at the start to add more tomato paste when I made this again at home.


Find out more:  To book a course or team-building event contact Sharmini via her website:


After lunch, we got busy with a beef kheema - a tasty mix of minced beef with spices and peas. Here, Sharmini passed on another tip, to mix all the spices in the recipe in a bowl first, add a drop of water, mix, then add the loose paste to the beef. "It stops the spices burning," she said, before advising us to make sure we cooked them in the pan too, to release their flavour.

Finally, we were charged with making some vegetable pakora, which involved dipping slices of potato and cauliflower into a lightly-spiced batter and popping them into a pan filled with hot oil.

This was totally new for me - I'd avoided deep-fat frying probably because as a child my mum burned down our kitchen by leaving a chip-pan on then going out for the day.

But with the encouragement of Sharmini, I soon had a golden pile of delicious and crispy vegetable pakora - and the confidence to have a go at home myself.

I'll just be doubly careful to turn off the hob afterwards.