A true taste of spice

Words by:
Barbara Young
Featured in:
March 2024

Winner of Best Newcomer at our Taste of Excellence Awards 2023, yellowbellykitchen creates specialist Indian ready meals inspired by owner Steve Whittemore’s passion for travel. Barbara Young visited to find out more.

Those in search of an authentic taste of global cuisine don’t have to travel far these days; in fact discerning diners in Lincolnshire can simply take a scenic drive into the Wolds to pick up a favourite taste of India to enjoy at home.

Based in the hamlet of Fulletby, Steve and Brec Whittemore of yellowbellykitchen have earned a growing reputation for producing deliciously authentic, hand prepared ready meals using traditional recipes from different regions in India.

The idea to launch yellowbellykitchen originally sprang from Steve’s taste for adventure and travel. Having completed his studies, he travelled extensively throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia, experiencing many different cultures, at the heart of which was food.

“It was then my eyes were opened to Indian cuisine. I travelled through India with an old school friend eating sensational food. We’d often have a Thali meal, finding that every district had their own variation.

“As a young man, I found it exciting eating strange and wonderful foods; sometimes off a banana leaf with your fingers and other times off a distinctive stainless steel tray.”

Prior to setting up the new business, Steve worked in the food industry for more than 30 years, travelling all over the world for UK vegetable importers. He also cooked in Hong Kong for a year.

Fast forward 25 years from those early post-student days and Steve was working in London looking for a place to eat. He stumbled across a restaurant inspired by the Saravana Bhavan international restaurant chain, where he found a Thali meal (Southern Indian vegetarian food) on the menu which he says “took me back to the early 1990s”.

“The foods I tasted that evening transported me back to India. I decided I wanted to do something using my love for cooking and eating Indian cuisine.

“At yellowbellykitchen we like to think we’re offering something that can’t be found elsewhere, especially locally to Lincolnshire, and it seems that our customers have embraced it.”

Traditional recipes
Launched in 2022, yellowbellykitchen currently offers more than 30 Indian dishes (as well as around 10 traditional family favourites), including their bestsellers Ruby Butter Chicken, Lamb Rogan Josh and Keralan Prawn Curry, alongside naan breads, poppadoms and home-made pickles.

“Our concept for yellowbellykitchen was to produce ‘home-cooked’ food with minimal food miles and clear, local provenance,” explains Steve.

“We try to cook food which is as authentic as possible using traditional recipes. Each dish is made from scratch, I make all of the spice blends by hand and each spice blend is unique to that dish.

“Chicken Tikka Masala (invented in Scotland, as far as I understand!) is the only non-traditional Indian recipe I use, but everybody knows and loves a Chicken Tikka Masala!”

yellowbellykitchen HQ started off in a brick-built outbuilding insulated with an oak frame and larch cladding about the size of a triple garage and Steve says customers are often quite surprised at what they discover inside.

The business is run by the small team of Steve and wife Brec, with occasional help from their two teenage daughters.

“We work on a two-day ordering system. This gives us time to plan, cook and freshly prepare dishes. A lot of dishes require marinating overnight and freshly prepared spices. When a customer places an order, I typically make multiple portions so the rest go into the kitchen shop.

“Many customers pass by on their way home from work and buy what happens to be available. Regulars know they have to order two days ahead if they definitely want a specific dish, but some don’t know what they’re having for dinner and don’t mind the ad hoc approach.

“Meals are kept in the fridge for two days, then move to the freezer. Offcuts get used in veg and meat stocks. The whole system means that food waste is very minimal and the food is fresh.”

Steve says the team is constantly finding and trying new recipes and introducing different dishes, while also making sure that favourites remain available. 

“The core of what we do comes from recipes being authentic and traditional. We hope to develop other cuisines too in this way, although at the moment we are mostly known and recognised for our Indian cuisine!”

Steve and Brec have been feeding some local shoots this season and adapting menus to suit their needs. Menus are updated on their website and change regularly.

“We’ve also catered for several parties, including weddings, and we’re very adaptable to our customers’ needs. We’re happy to chat about any opportunities and try to come up with solutions.

“Every day we are amazed by the confidence our customers have in trying something different. We endeavour to offer a personal service both at the point of ordering and in our kitchen shop that customers often discuss their chilli heat requirements and are then guided based on their past curry choices. If you pop in when I’m cooking, you may even get to taste a dish before buying!

“We get a lot of walkers popping in as they can smell the food as they walk past on the Viking Way.”

Lincolnshire roots
yellowbellykitchen was born on the completion of the development of their commercial kitchen at Fulletby.
“We wanted our company name to reflect our location and provenance along with the fact that we work directly from our kitchen! Our dishes are sold directly from our kitchen shop and customers can see and smell the food and the workings of our kitchen.”

The pair have firm roots in the county and continue to promote its fresh food heritage.

Steve, whose family moved from Bedfordshire to Lincolnshire when he was just four years old, also lived in Stickney with his family and later moved to Boston. The name of the business reflects its desire to promote the county’s rich abundance of produce.

“The term ‘yellowbelly’ is often associated with people who are born in Lincolnshire. There are many stories behind the name but the one most recognised is that the Royal North Lincolnshire Militia officers wore bright yellow waistcoats on the battlefield. The yellow waistcoats made it easier for them to be spotted and less likely to be a target!

“Although Brec, who previously worked in primary education, was born in north London and grew up in Leicestershire, she frequently visited the Lincolnshire coast throughout her childhood as her grandparents lived in Sandilands and moved here in the 1990s when we first met.”

The couple say they have been overwhelmed by the support from customers and Lincolnshire Life readers since winning last year’s Taste of Excellence Awards ‘Best Newcomer of the Year’ and being voted as a finalist in ‘Best Food to Your Door’.

“Winning these two accolades has expanded our customer base – some customers travel from as far as Lincoln and Hull to buy and enjoy our food. It’s been a huge privilege to be recognised by a magazine which celebrates and champions great Lincolnshire produce.”

Future plans
As orders have increased, Steve and Brec have added extra dishes which they aim to sell through the development of their kitchen shop.

They have also recently started supplying Tealby Village Shop with frozen dishes, and are seeking a similar arrangement with other local farm shops. Some customers have set up their own Curry Clubs where dishes can be enjoyed with friends in their own home. There has also been demand for outside catering.

“We have catered for many parties from 10 guests to 150 and offer several bespoke catering opportunities – this can be anything from sausage and bacon butties served by hand to wedding and party guests, to an Indian banquet from our authentic Thali trays.

“In addition, we offer batch cooking for customers’ freezers, providing frozen dishes for them to enjoy any day of the week, to customers dropping off a pot for us to fill with their favourite curry.

“And we’re working on the idea of upscaling to incorporate the possibility of mail-order.

“We also want to expand our yellowbellykitchen Curry Clubs, so if readers would like to host one, please get in touch.

“The business is growing and diversifying and we’re really excited by what’s to come.”

For more information visit www.yellowbellykitchen.co.uk

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