By Sean Carey
Congratulations to Dr Ian Rothwell, 55, who is the first person to have finished ‘The Widower’, a chicken curry so strong that the chef who prepares it uses goggles and a face mask for protection. The £20 curry, prepared at the Bindi restaurant in Grantham, Lincolnshire uses 20 ultra-hot Naga Infinity Chillies, and measures six million units on the Scoville Scale – 10,000 times hotter than Tabasco sauce.
The UK’s Indian 9000-strong restaurant sector, which is worth around £3.6 billion annually, continues to evolve. For many years the mild and creamy chicken tikka masala was the nation’s favourite dish (the late Robin Cook viewed it as a “perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences”), but it has now been overtaken by the spicier chicken jalfrezi.
Nevertheless, irrespective of an increase in preference for hotter dishes, especially among white British consumers, a long-standing division between males, who prefer dishes with more chilli, and females, who like milder fare operates in some ways like a geological fault line. Interestingly, the gender rule seems to operate independently of social class.
That symbolic division is borne out by the fact that of the 300 people who have tried to conquer The Widower in the two years it has been available, only around 10 were female. And some of those who made up the failures were male friends of the boyfriend of Dr Rothwell’s daughter Alice. It was she who first alerted the consultant radiologist, a fan of fiery curries since his days as a student in Leeds and Manchester, about the challenge and encouraged him to give it a go.
The Sun, The Mirror and the Daily Mail all reported that Dr Rothwell’s wife Christine found him ‘hallucinating’ on Grantham High Street half way through the challenge. It seems from his own account, however, that although Dr Rothwell was sweating and experiencing an endorphin rush, he was merely considering whether it was in his best interests to return to the restaurant to complete his task. He decided it was.
It took another half hour to finish the dish. Although Dr Rothwell, who had to sign a disclaimer before eating the curry, was offered a glass of milk by the restaurant’s owner to mitigate some of the effects of the chillies, he preferred to drink a large bottle of Cobra beer and eat a small amount of rice – a good choice since drinking water serves only to amplify the sensation of heat. Afterwards, Dr Rothwell said that eating The Widower had been a harder task than the seven-day climb of Mount Kilimanjaro he had completed last year.
The chef-proprietor of Bindi, British Bangladeshi Muhammed Karim, was full of praise for Dr Rothwell’s efforts, especially as most people give up eating The Widower after a few mouthfuls. “We’ve had people sweating, crying, shaking and vomiting,” said Mr Karim. “We even had to ring an ambulance once. Mr Rothwell is a legend as far as I’m concerned.”
We can all agree on that.
Dr Sean Carey is research fellow in the School of Social Sciences, University of Roehampton. He has a long-established interest in the UK curry sector.
* Published in print edition on 12 January 2013
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