IT was the hottest local story of the week and the Gazette s tale of a North Devon man s dabble with the world s hottest chilli has led to eruption of enquiries after the plant. After being given a handful of seeds by a friend visiting from Bangladesh

IT was the "hottest" local story of the week - and the Gazette's tale of a North Devon man's dabble with the world's hottest chilli has led to eruption of enquiries after the plant.After being given a handful of seeds by a friend visiting from Bangladesh, Indian restaurant owner Azhar Ahmed managed to grow five Naga Jolokia pepper plants in the back garden of his Barnstaple home.Mr Ahmed, who runs the Taj Mahal take-away in Allhalland Street, Bideford, grew enough of the fiery fruit - regarded by the Guinness Book of Records to be the world's hottest - to produce 14 dishes of red hot curry that he sold to raise £110 for the North Devon Hospice."After the story appeared in the Gazette, demand for the curry - and the plants themselves - has been huge," said Mr Ahmed."I only had enough chilli to produce a limited number of dishes and unfortunately had to turn about 15 people away."I didn't think the response would be as big but in some cases, four or five people shared one dish so they could try the chilli."A lot of customers have rung or written to say they really enjoyed it. I've had around 40 calls from people asking after the chilli and one gentleman even offered me £80 for one plant!"Mr Ahmed said that rather than sell the plants, he had decided to donate three to St John's Garden Centre in Barnstaple."This is something a little different for this area and hopefully, St John's will be able to cultivate more plants to sell to people in North Devon next summer."On Monday, he delivered the plants to St John's greenhouse supervisor Gerri Luckie - and a cheque for the money raised to North Devon Hospice's Emma Lowe.Gerrie, who grows a number of chilli varieties alongside hundreds of other different types of plants at the nursery, said she would dry the seeds out before trying to propagate them next spring."We've got a good variety of chilli here already and this year, I'm trying to grow the Scotch Bonnet variety for the first time," she told the Gazette."It'll be a good challenge for the garden centre to take on the world's hottest though!"St John's marketing manager Chris Webber added: "Because of our horticultural experience, if anyone can grow them, we can."Hopefully customers will be able to come and try them for themselves next summer - let's hope it's a hot one!"Hospice community fund-raiser Emma Lowe thanked Mr Ahmed and staff at the Taj Mahal."This is possibly one of the most unique, certainly 'hottest' fundraising initiatives we've had to date," she said.n SPREADING the seeds - Above: Azhar Ahmed presents the chilli plants to St John's Gerri Luckie; and the fund-raising cheque to Emma Lowe of the North Devon Hospice. Ref: AK3431