Prime Minister David Cameron has called for curry house restaurateurs to take the uniquely “British” curry to the world and pledged his full support to make Chicken Tikka the “dish of choice” from the plazas of New York to the beaches of Rio.
The Prime Minister made the comments during a speech at the annual British Curry Awards held at Battersea Evolution in South London on Monday.
Addressing a crowd of more than 1600 people representing curry houses from across the UK, Mr Cameron hailed the incredible success of Britain’s near-£4 billion curry house industry and called for it to become a ‘global brand’.
“More than 200 years after the first curry house opened in Britain, British made curry is heading the other way. From next to nothing a decade ago to a huge success today it’s an incredible story of innovation and I want it to be just the beginning.
In the years to come I want Chicken Tikka and Lamb Balti to be the dished of choice wherever you go; from the plazas of New York through the avenues of Paris to the beaches of Rio.”
Mr Cameron also pledged to work towards making it easier for restaurant owners to obtain visas for chefs from the South Asian sub-continent.
New caps on the number of immigrants from outside the EU has severely restricted the number of new chefs recruited by restaurateurs who rely on talent, particularly from Bangladesh, to continue serving punters at the more than 10,000 curry houses dotted around Britain.
Enam Ali MBE, founder of the British Curry Awards, told the UKAsian that the problems surrounding visa rules for new chefs has been exacerbated by the fact that few young British Asians are taking to the industry.
“There is a real concern about the lack of quality chefs but the coalition has done a tremendous amount of work with us to find a resolution."
But I think the main challenge is engaging the new generation. There are plenty of people getting into the curry business but they are only front of house. They don’t want to get their hands dirty and move to the kitchen and innovate there.
I think a lot of cultural prejudices need to be lifted for more people to get involved in the business. A lot of youngsters think that going into the kitchen is considered a failure within their community. That should not be the case. The most important thing that we can do as the British Curry Awards is to change that perception among young people.
Celebrated chef Atul Kochar was among the award winners on the night.
The ‘Benares’ owner won Best Spice Restaurant (Central London and City) and called on his fellow chefs to make curry an integral part of British cuisine by drawing on inspiration at home in Britain rather than from the South Asian subcontinent.
“We need to incorporate important aspects like seasonality and British produce into the curry industry to take it to the next level”, Kochar said.
(PICTURED - Atul Kochar, Head Chef at Benares, winner of Best Spice Restaurant - London Central and City)
Other winners on the night included ‘Karma’ in West Lothian, which won Best Spice Restaurant (Scotland); ‘Mem Saab’ in Leicester (Best Spice Restaurant – Midlands) and the wonderfully named ‘Myristica’ in Bristol (Best Spice Restaurant – South West).
But whilst the ninth edition of the annual awards ceremony drew a large crowd and remains popular, many remain skeptical. Among the cynics is Navin Bhatia, the award-winning head chef of the Dockmasters House restaurant near Canary Wharf.
Mr Bhatia took to social networking site Twitter on Monday to criticize the awards which he said merely celebrated Britain’s “generic”, “pint and cheap curry” business.
He told the UKAsian: “Curry houses are merely dishing out bastardized versions of South Asian dishes made by chefs with no cultural heritage in the subcontinent. The time has come to get away from the pint and cheap curry culture and give the British people a true taste of India or Bangladesh or Pakistan and stop this curry awards business which seems to be an opportunity for a handful of people to give themselves a pat on the back.”
Mr Bhatia added: “If we are going to be stuck in the same curry world, the entire industry will perish. It’s time to change our ways and move away from the generic British curry.”
FULL LIST OF WINNERS OF THE 9th BRITISH CURRY AWARDS:
Best Spice Restaurant Scotland: Karma, Whitburn
Best Spice Restaurant North East: Raval, Gateshead, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Best Spice Restaurant North West: The Viceroy, Carlisle, Cumbria
Best Spice Restaurant Midlands: Mem Saab, Leicsester
Best Spice Restaurant Wales: Bokhara, Pen-y-Fai, Bridgend
Best Spice Restaurant South East: Chez Mumtaj, St Albans, Herts
Best Spice Restaurant South West: Myristica, Bristol
Best Spice Restaurant Central London and City: Benares, Berkeley Square
Best Spice Restaurant London Outer and Suburbs: Indian Moment, Battersea
Best Newcomer: Shampan 4 at the Spinning Wheel, Westerham, Kent