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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

‘Indian food in the UK is an all-time favourite’: Chef Dipna Anand

"The British palate has come a long way. Brits understand the difference between an authentic curry and a not-so-authentic curry -- something which has happened quite recently, due to the popularity and growth of the UK Indian restaurant sector," she said

Written by Shweta Sharma | New Delhi |
May 7, 2021 12:30:18 pm
Dipna Anand, chef Dipna Anand, Dipna Anand brilliant restaurant, Dipna Anand gordon ramsay, celebrity chef Dipna Anand, Dipna Anand interview, Dipna Anand instagram, Dipna Anand indian expressChef Dipna Anand is the co-owner of London-based Brilliant Restaurant. (Photo: PR handout)

Co-owner of the well-known Brilliant Restaurant in Southall, London, celebrity chef Dipna Anand’s love affair with cooking started at a young age. Known for her signature recipes and love for Indian cuisine, the cookbook author has also produced a range of Indian dessert based ice-creams in gulab jamun and gajar halwa flavours.

In an exclusive email interaction with indianexpress.com, the chef talks about her restaurant, Indian cuisine in the UK, cooking up delicacies for celebrities and royals, and the impact of Covid-19 on the food and beverage industry:

Excerpts:

How and when did your tryst with food begin?

Being born and brought up among a family of chefs and restaurateurs connected me to the world of cooking the day I was born. It’s fair to say cooking is in my blood and I have forever been passionate about food and the way in which I have seen my father take our family restaurant to new successes. Growing up, I was fortunate to be able to assist dad in the family business, and going to the restaurants on weekends was something I looked forward to. The connection with the world of food was there right from the start and has never stopped since.

 

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How would you describe your journey?

It has been great because as a female Indian chef, I get a lot of attention. You do not see many Indian female chefs around in London, which is why people get impressed by what I am doing. It’s very inspiring to know I am inspiring others to pursue a career in cooking, and I feel motivated when I am able to pass on my skills and knowledge to others. London has been very kind to me. Of course, it helps that we are a curry-loving nation. My cookery books have become bestsellers, my cookery school is doing really well and my television show was also taken very positively. So for me it is ‘Brilliant’ being a chef in London. The biggest learning, to date, has surely been the lockdowns because it brings to light what you take for granted — both personally and professionally. During the lockdowns, I missed working and being around my kitchen teams. I have learnt life is all about acceptance and being appreciative of all we have.

You are admired for your culinary skills, but who do you consider your favourite chef and why?

I have a few favourite celebrity chefs, however, the top chef in my life is my mum. I call her super-chef because she can literally make anything and has taught me a lot about cooking. Chefs in the public eye that I look up to are Mary Berry, Gordon Ramsay, James Martin and Michel Roux Jnr.

 

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There is no dearth of Indian food in the UK; how do you make your dishes unique?

Our restaurant has been established for 45 years, and most recipes date back to over 70 years as they are my grandfather’s recipes. We have built up a strong brand and reputation over all of these years and our name is now synonymous in the UK for the best Indian food. Not only are we unique as we are family-run, but our daring name means that we set ourselves a challenge every single day to ensure we do not fall short of that title. This brings in new diners along with the fact that our food is always consistent.

What are your signature dishes, and what makes them different?

Our signature dishes include: butter chicken — we have a version of dry butter chicken which goes particularly well with our mint chutney. This is my grandfather’s creation from back in Kenya in the 1950s and we have customers who especially come to us from miles away to have it. Our jeera chicken and chilli chicken are also signature classics, again creations of my grandfather. And the melt-in-the-mouth tandoori lamb chops — a hot favourite on the menu, and my favourite, too!

 

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How would you describe the Indian cooking scene in the UK?

Indian food in the UK is an all-time favourite. In fact, the British national dish is now known to be chicken tikka masala and has overtaken fish and chips! The British love affair with Indian cuisine is surely one that’s here to stay. In Britain today, there are said to be almost 10,000 Indian restaurants from 32 different regional cuisines. As a result, opportunities in the UK market for Indian restaurants continue to grow. Many people in the UK are employed by the Indian restaurant sector and the economy is kept strong. Not only do the British enjoy authentic Indian curry dishes but they have are also intrigued by the Indian street food and Tandoori cooking. It’s a cuisine that’s here to stay — after all, the Brits cannot stay without their curry!

The pandemic affected the F&B industry in a huge way. How did it affect you personally?

Covid-19 has been a challenging yet very valuable lesson. Before the pandemic, I was constantly busy and on the go. But, it has changed now. Earlier, on average, I would only come home to sleep and spend two hours during the day. If I wasn’t at a pop-up, I would be doing a demo, be at my cookery school, or in a football stadium or leisure venue preparing food for anywhere between 250-1000 guests. Life was full to the top and sometimes I would yearn just to be at home. In the last three months, however, I have got to do all I have ever wished for. Spend time with the two people I owe my success to — my mum and dad — as well as cook for my fans every single day and release a new recipe on social media. The response has been overwhelming and cooking like this has helped me stay focused. It’s my new normal and I am thankful to have experienced life this way.

 

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Your brand name is ‘Brilliant’ — how challenging is it to live up to the name every single time a dish is prepared in the kitchen?

When Gordon Ramsay visited, on both occasions, he said, “With a name like Brilliant you have to ensure you are nothing less than brilliant”. This is very true. We work hard to ensure our standard is kept at an all-time high. We have to make sure that every customer who dines with us has a brilliant experience because that’s what we call ourselves. It’s actually a very daring name but it’s what keeps us striving to be our best all the time.

Not only the royal family, even Bollywood and celebrated chefs have visited your restaurant. Can you share what they were served and what feedback they have for you?

Many celebrities continually visit the restaurant. HRH Prince Charles has visited twice, and told us it was some of the best Indian food he had ever eaten. Gordon Ramsay has also visited twice and he described it as being ‘proper authentic Indian cooking that comes from the heart’. Other celebrities include Bollywood and Hollywood actors, singers and politicians and ministers including Kevin Kostner, Amitabh Bachan, Shah Rukh Khan, Lata Mangeshkar, Cliff Richard, Ted Heath, Princess Ann and Chris Tarrant.

Popular dishes among Bollywood celebrities include our special dal makhani, chilli chicken, masala chicken, vegetable keema, tandoori salmon, tandoori lamb chops and chilli and garlic mogo chips. JP Dutta, who is a regular diner, adores our gajar halwa and says it’s the best he has ever had. His daughters, Nidhi and Siddhi, savour our chilli and garlic mogo.

 

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The pandemic also led to many food trends. Did you try any and see any of them becoming big in the near future?

The pandemic let us all experiment in the kitchen. Not only did I try these recipes but I was very much part of starting certain trends of my own on social media as I was sharing a recipe per day. I did a macaroni cheese in a cup, I did a fried egg in a bread recipe and my most popular was my express makhani chicken recipes. I think such trends are surely here to stay and are only going to become more popular in the future as social media has become part and parcel of so many lives today.

The one stark difference between Indian and British preferences when it comes to Indian food…

The difference in regards to flavour and taste has come much closer, I feel. London now is known as the curry capital of the world and the British palate has come a long way. Brits understand the difference between an authentic curry and a not-so-authentic curry — something which has happened quite recently due to the popularity and growth of the UK Indian restaurant sector. Non-Asians living in the UK are also able to tolerate just as much chilli as Indian people (if not more sometimes) and very desi authentic dishes such as dal makhani, aloo gobi and karahi gosht are British favourites now. I would say the one main difference however is the variety and array of dishes in India which is still significantly more extreme and vast as compared to the UK. Finding skilled chefs in India is very easy in comparison to finding chefs here in the UK.

 

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The best compliment you have ever received for your food in all these years…

When Gordon Ramsay came to our restaurant to learn how to cook Punjabi food and work the clay oven, he left saying, “Wow that’s authentic Indian cooking and its really good to see as it comes from the heart”. That’s a huge compliment coming from a world-famous chef like him. James Martin is another one of my favourite chefs and has called me back on to his show five times. That in itself is the biggest compliment for me.

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