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Adding spice to their lives; Couple on way to our festival.

Byline: Hannah Davies

PEOPLE who like a bit of spice are in for a treat at The Journal's latest Taste festival. The couple behind Spicymonkey, who have just relaunched, are bringing their exotic pastes and sauces to the event at the Metrocentre on the weekend of October 31 - yet keeping a local flavour.

"Obviously some of our ingredients have to be imported, but we are very committed to supporting local producers and suppliers wherever possible," says Ian Nixon, 30.

Spicy Monkey, which previous Taste festival visitors will know for their fabulous Thai Green Curry Paste among others, have just started up again after Ian and wife Gemma, 30, of Shipcote, Gateshead, have spent a year cycling across South America and helping out at a monkey sanctuary.

"We'd actually planned the trip before we started the company," Ian says.

"I've always had a bit of a thing about monkeys so when we decided to start the company Spicymonkey was one of the first names to come up."

Two years ago and Ian and Gemma were both in full-time jobs. In their spare time, they cooked up delicious homemade curry pastes, spice blends and marinades, which they sold on a regular stall on Newcastle quayside to raise funds for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Gemma explains: "One Christmas, we gave away home-made sauces and pastes as presents to family and friends. They went down really well and we had lots of follow-up requests for more sauces, and that's how we came up with the idea for Spicymonkey." Spicymonkey's saucy treats, inspired by flavours from around the world, were an instant hit and Ian and Gemma took their new-found hobby to fairs around the region. With a loyal and growing customer base and plenty of positive feedback at events, Ian made the decision to leave his job to concentrate on running Spicymonkey full-time.

In November 2008, the newly-married couple flew out to South America, where they spent the next 10 months cycling the length of the continent and volunteering at Inti Wara Yassi, a monkey sanctuary in the Bolivian Amazon rainforest.

Inti Wara Yassi is a cause that is close to their hearts. Ian and Gemma gave the proceeds from their Special Monkey Curry to the sanctuary.

"Inti Wara Yassi is an important place, as it helps to rehabilitate mistreated monkeys and other local animals, giving them a better life in their natural environment," explains Ian.

"They welcome volunteers with no experience whatsoever to help out in the sanctuary and we both thoroughly enjoyed working with these wonderful creatures. I've loved monkeys since I was a child and it seemed fitting to link the two passions in my life, spicy food and monkeys!" Apart from all the monkey hugs they got at the sanctuary, there have been several highlights of their adventure. To celebrate Ian's 30thbirthday, they took a trip to Easter Island. They have also been trekking in Torres del Paine and Iguazu falls and finished their epic trip in Cusco, where they followed the Inca Trail for Gemma's 30th birthday.

But there were also challenges along the way, when a donkey destroyed their tent and Gemma got bitten by a Coati.

And now, 10 months on, after braving 5,000 miles of challenging terrain, Ian and Gemma are back in the saddle once again, this time in the relative safety of the kitchen, as they aim to take Spicymonkey from strength to strength. Gemma is delighted that Ian is taking on the business full-time. "Spicymonkey gives Ian the opportunity to do something he loves, every single day and share this with people that love spicy food too," she said.

"Hopefully it'll get more people back into the kitchen making great food."

Ian adds: "We hope that Spicymonkey will continue to grow and deliver easy, healthy and fun food to North East plates. And hopefully save lots of monkeys along the way!" Read all about their adventure www.spicymonkeytours.blogspot.com, for more information contact: Ian & Gemma Nixon: ian@spicymonkey.co.uk, 07753 398 360.

For more information or to book a stand please contact Joanne Fenwick on (0191) 201-6065 or email joanne.fenwick@ncjmedia.co.uk

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MONKEY BUSINESS Ian and Gemma Nixon, from Gateshead, who have set up Spicymonkey, selling prepared spices and curry mixes.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 26, 2009
Words:714
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