Taking curry to its birthplace: Best of British Curry Festival and the recipe for success
We’ve heard of selling ice to Eskimos and coal to Newcastle… but curry to India? Michelin chef Dominic Chapman talks about a chance encounter with a beer magnate. Helping Anglo Indian chefs, aim for the stars, and a forthcoming trip to Kolkata as part of the Best of British Curry Festival.
A year ago I met a man on a scuba diving boat in Greece. We got talking about food and curry… and beer. So far, so English, I hear you say. My diving companion turned out to be none other than Lord Karan Bilimoria, the founder of one of the great success stories of the UK food and drink industry in the past 20 years.
The chances are that if you like curry then you will know Cobra Beer and it is a mark of the brand’s popularity that the two are now synonymous with one another. We shared a passion for curry and in the course of our conversation he wanted to know why more British curry chefs hadn’t won a Michelin star – there are only two in the UK- and what could be done about it.
It was a good question and, on my return to the UK, he put me in touch with some of the country’s leading Indian restaurateurs to find a way forward. Curry Life Magazine, which is organising the British Curry Festival, held a seminar for chefs, where I was invited to talk alongside Atul Kochhar who was the first Indian chef to win a Michelin star in the UK.
The British have a long-standing love affair with curry dating back to 1809 when the first Indian restaurant opened in London. There are now more than 12,000 Indian restaurants in the UK with some geographically defining their surrounding area, such as east London’s Brick Lane and Birmingham’s ‘Balti Triangle.’
I have the utmost respect for British curry chefs. They are hugely passionate about their restaurants, have frighteningly large menus to contend with and a large and increasingly demanding number of customers. They have an intimate knowledge of spices that leaves me feeling like somewhat of a novice. Balance is everything in cooking and too little of this or too much of that can be the difference between something that works and something that doesn’t.
I relished the chance of getting involved and recently held a master class for Indian chefs where I talked about my own experience in the food industry and what I thought was needed to win a Michelin star.
I should preface that by saying I have never personally sought accolades for my cooking. My priority has always been to put my heart and soul into being the best I can be, in my chosen profession. I believe that this is a good starting point for anything anyone wants to achieve in life.
The recipe for success
If you love what you do and can mix that passion and enthusiasm with a willingness to learn and keep growing then you will be a success. My personal recipe is simple. I focus on consistently producing the best food that I can and that, in turn, is measured by the number of customers who come to the restaurant.
You can be the greatest chef in the world but if people aren’t enjoying your food, what’s the point? It is so important that the food you produce fits the surroundings you are in. My basic advice at the master class was to consider reducing the number of dishes on the menu, refine the remainder to a consistently high standard, buy the best seasonal ingredients you can afford, keep in touch with your customers’ tastes and ensure everything you do is done with thought and passion.
It’s far better to be exceptional at a few things than mediocre at a lot.
As a young chef, it’s also important to be a sponge and soak up as much knowledge as you can. If you’re really committed to the kitchen you soon realize that learning is an on-going journey. It doesn’t have an end point and there is always something new to experience, eat or see.
I am glad to say that I will be travelling with a group of like-minded chefs to the Best of British Curry Festival in Kolkata in August where we will be preparing more than 70 dishes over a 10-day period at the Hyatt Hotel. These include high street favourites like British Chicken Tikka Masala, alongside signature dishes including Shepherd’s Manpasand Pie, Lamb chops with plum and coriander sauce and Bengal Lancers shrimp curry. There is even a version of Sunday Roast and Yorkshire Puddings although beef is off the menu for religious reasons and replaced with lamb.
It might sound a little odd taking curry to its birthplace but the festival has had an enthusiastic reception in the past from countries as far afield as America, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Spain, UAE and Eastern Europe. India is also a country that isn’t covered by the Michelin Food Guide.
The Michelin guide is of huge interest to Indian restaurants in the UK. My involvement will give diners the chance to taste some British classics like Potted Shrimps, Fish and Chips, Chicken and Mushroom Pie and Lancashire Hot Pot. We’ll all be flying the British culinary flag in our own way. While I won’t be cooking Anglo-Indian dishes, I am hoping to learn a huge amount about India and its food while I am there.
It will be my first trip to India. I am looking forward to cooking with some great Indian chefs, meeting some interesting people and experiencing the country and culture. This trip will be a huge education for me and is very exciting. I can’t wait to experience the delicious food of Kolkata and the diverse experience of India.Tagged in: Atul Kochhar, British Curry Festival, Cobra Beer, curry, indian food, Karan Bilimoria, Kolkata, Lord Karan Bilimoria
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