CALIFORNIAN Dan Toombs' introduction to British curry houses didn't come until he was 22, when he worked in a pub in Croydon while on a student visa.

A few trips to the local establishment and he was hooked.

"I'd never tried Indian food because it just wasn't available over there at that time - it is now - and I loved it," says the enthusiast, who now lives in North Yorkshire. "I've been trying to make it ever since."

On his return to the United States, he scoured his home state for Indian food but his searches came up short. So, when he made a permanent move to the UK in 1993, the studious hunt for the perfect curry resumed - with Toombs meeting local chefs to find out their secrets, setting up his blog The Curry Guy and later starting his year-long curry challenge.

And his debut cookbook, The Curry Guy, in which he pools his knowledge from years of diligent curry-eating, and his quest, which he, his wife and three children took part in, brought the diversity of the cuisine into sharp focus.

"Curry is a generic word," explains Toombs, who co-runs a commercial merchandise business with his wife from their home, often bringing up curries for the team to try.

"People say, 'I'm going out for a curry' but that might mean you're going out for tandoori chicken or a dosa or a fruit lassi. We might have fruit lassis in the morning and then a barbecue in the evening. It's never boring."

The variety of the cuisine put the family's taste buds to the test and Toombs is convinced their success shows there's a curry for everybody.

"One thing I say is that these recipes are the way I make them at home, but there's no reason why you can't do them however you want them.

"Sauces all have different heat levels. Madras is going to be hotter than a tikka masala sauce, but don't not eat madras just because you don't love spicy food - just don't put as much chilli in it. There are so many nice flavours in each of those different sauces, there's no reason why you have to ruin it for yourself.

"It's really easy to heat up a curry - all you have to do is add chillies. But once it's too spicy, it's really hard to cool it down, so just be sensible with your cooking and you'll be fine."