Curry Life is hosting its Culinary Workshop on the 25th July at the Crowne Plaza London Docklands. Presented together with experts from the hospitality industry, it promises to be an event packed full of insight into future trends and advice on how the curry industry can recover post-pandemic.
The evening will include a drinks and canapés reception, with plenty of opportunity for networking. This will be followed by talks and presentations from industry experts and suppliers, live cooking demonstrations and a gala dinner. In our event preview, speakers highlight their experiences from the last year and how they have kept positive, offer a taster of their presentations and share advice on kick-starting the curry industry.
The power of spice
Acclaimed food writer and celebrity chef Mridula Baljekar will be highlighting the health benefits of everyday spices. She is passionate about healthy eating and says Indian food is ideal for a healthy diet.
“Spices have healing properties which many people are unaware of,” she says. Everyday spices such as turmeric have been used in India for thousands of years to cure arthritis, boost the body’s immunity levels, fight heart and brain diseases and many more ailments. Chinese herbalists called turmeric a ‘healing plant’. Other spices we use daily are garlic, ginger, chilli and onion, all of which contribute to a healthy lifestyle”.
Baljekar’s next book, due to be published in 2022, is called Spice Secrets; A Doorway to the Magical World of Spices. It features the health benefits of spices and their origin, a guide to buying and storing and easy-to-follow recipes.
As well as writing her book, Baljekar has been busy in the last year adapting her business in light of the pandemic. With her cookery classes and live cooking demonstrations cancelled during Covid-19 restrictions, Baljekar looked to replace some of the lost income, while also helping those who love Indian food, but who could not visit their favourite restaurants.
“I developed a range of Indian ready meals and launched them in food stores near my home in Windsor and I am hoping to take my meals to a wider market in the near future,” she says.
She also launched online cookery classes for those looking to build on their home cooking skills, attracting budding cooks from the UK alongside Europe and the US. “Making people happy through my food has always been very dear to my heart and I am thrilled that I have been able to do that even during the pandemic,” she says.”Promoting Indian food and the industry has been my focus for many years. Indian food is vast and varied and it is the spices that unite this vastness.”
Baljekar believes that it is time for the curry industry to re-think how it cooks and presents food, bearing in mind the enormous doubts and fears that the pandemic has created in everyone’s minds.
“Clean tasting and healthy dishes with clear and precise descriptions on the menu, highlighting the health benefits of the dishes, could be one way to instil confidence in people,” she says. “Avoiding too much salt, sugar, oil, butter and ghee will be my way of cooking; it is not necessary to use excessive amounts of these ingredients to produce delicious food.”
Baljekar says the future of the curry industry can be as good – if not better than it was pre-Covid, but there are certain challenges the industry needs to overcome.
“We need to ensure that restaurateurs are not crippled by high rents and business rates – both landlords and local authorities hopefully will look at these issues more sympathetically,” she says. “Industry suppliers have also suffered during the pandemic; hence sourcing local produce could be another way to gain customer confidence and help suppliers. Needless to say, eating local will also reduce carbon footprint, which in turn will contribute to a cleaner planet.”
Staying positive, says Baljekar, is the key to success in life, but when adversity hits us, it is easy to fall into a negative mindset.
“Faith and hope are the only things that can help us to hold on to positive thinking. Bad times don’t last forever, just as good times do not,” she says. “My own thinking is ‘have faith in yourself and your work and never give up hope’; this has helped me to overcome hard times and enjoy sunny days.”
Refocus and recharge
Mark Poynton, chef patron of MJP@TheShepherds in Fen Ditton, located close to Cambridge and former head chef at Michelin-starred Alimentum, will also be speaking at the workshop. In the last year, as well as refining recipes for his restaurant, he has been busy working on a debut cookbook, due out in autumn this year, featuring a range of his signature recipes. His current menu showcases dishes such as tandoori roast cauliflower, cumin dhal, pomegranate; smoked pork belly, snails, focaccia and stone bass, turnip, pistachio, mustard.
“My main challenge in the last year has been making sure we can stay afloat and have a business to come back to,” he says. “We flipped to ‘at home boxes’ at a very early stage and that has been a massive help, both business-wise and to keep the team motivated. The Government has also been fantastic with grants and the furlough scheme.”
Poynton has kept himself motivated by thinking of his team and his family, and pushing every day to be better than yesterday. In the near future, he says he is looking forward to hosting ‘a full restaurant, seeing people cook recipes from my book and who knows, possibly a second MJP.’
For the curry – and other food industries to recover, Poynton believes it’s important to refocus and look at streamlining the business. “Think about whether you need to open seven days – at MJP we are only open three and a half days a week as it is better to be full on those days rather than half-empty across seven,” he says. “It means less staff are needed and you can use the same staff everyday for consistency, so there is less waste, less mistakes and fundamentally happy customers.”
Getting back to basics and looking at education and staff welfare is one avenue Poynton says could be further explored. “Has anybody ever looked at opening a purely Indian-styled catering and hospitality college in the UK? We have to forget that we can no longer hire from abroad and think outside the box,” he says.
A sustainable approach
Sustainability and how to buy products wisely will be the main focus of Dominic Chapman’s workshop session. The chef/patron at country restaurant/pub The Beehive in White Waltham, says that in the wake of the pandemic, sustainability and looking after the planet are important issues for the restaurant industry.
“Try not to use unsustainable produce; if you spend a little more to get a better product, you get happier customers,” he says. “Buying sustainably is going to benefit you more. At The Beehive, we focus on sustainable, seasonal food. We buy day boat fish, source locally-grown produce and opt for free range, all of which can reduce air miles.”
Like others in the industry, Chapman focused on takeaways during the pandemic but also adapted in other ways to manage cashflow, offering goods such as toilet rolls, cornflakes and bin bags.
“If we could get it from our suppliers we sold it, I was supplying all the things you couldn’t get in the supermarket such as flour and eggs,” he explains. “We adapted very quickly and we found our rhythm to create ready meals – ‘Beehive dinners at home’.”
This included a range of takeaway dinners, such as fish and chips, burgers, burritos and kebabs. Chapman also promoted the dishes on social media, with the aim of creating community spirit and reaching as many people – local and further afield, as possible.
He believes the curry industry is a leader in the takeaway sector and hopes that this side continues to flourish. But with Indian restaurants facing so much competition, Chapman believes the key to survival and recovery will be focusing on using good quality ingredients and sustainable produce. And with many Indian restaurants providing a large menu, Chapman believes they have to provide the quality to match the sheer size of what’s on offer.
“Indian restaurants are very entrepreneurial businesses – as long as they focus on the quality of food and service they will bounce back,” he says. “Sustainable food does not have to be expensive; if you have good ingredients and offer wonderful service, you will have the makings of a good restaurant.”
Keeping busy has helped Chapman to maintain a positive outlook in a tough year. As well as having reopened The Beehive in line with Government rules, he is continuing the takeaway and delivery operations that were started during the pandemic.
“We will see how this goes and if we need to employ more people we will get creative and think on our feet,” he says.
Adapt to changing behaviour
Mo Gherras has more than 20 years experience in the restaurant trade and opened his new venture – The Cross Keys pub in Sherborne in June 2019, less than a year before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The business remained open from the very first UK lockdown, with Gherras changing and adapting the model on a regular basis, adjusting to customers’ needs.
“We are very much part of the community, doing food deliveries and changing our menus to suit customers’ tastes, “ he explains. “For example, on Friday we do fish and chips – this is one example of the classic dishes that people want.”
During the third lockdown, Gherras turned the pub into a shop, establishing a community hub, serving breakfast and providing essential supplies. He says such a business model means they can quickly adapt to customers’ changing needs.
His efforts thus far have paid off, with The Cross Keys being recognised with a number of awards. It was the winner in the New Business of the Year category at the Dorset Tourism Awards 2020 and also won Silver in the ‘Pub of the Year’ award. It was also named a ‘Great Days Winner’ by South West Trains; this accolade was given to five small businesses, with each receiving a recovery package worth £12,000. Gherras says upselling customer demand put the restaurant on the map beyond Sherborne. The package was used to help with marketing, with the restaurant featuring on billboards on 20 stations from Waterloo to Exeter, as well as investment for new equipment.
Gherras believes curry restaurants are adapting to people’s changing behaviours, particularly with regards to deliveries.
“The mindset with delivery has changed – previously it was seen as a treat now it is a necessity,”he says. “That is how you get your name and brand out there, doing door-to-door deliveries yourself, not through a third party. If you make an effort, locals will support you and this is particularly true for Indian restaurants. There is a lot of competition out there.”
He sees staffing as the biggest issue, not just for Indian restaurants but for the entire hospitality sector, with a shortage of chefs one of the main challenges.
“Furlough in part has created this, with many people only choosing to work a couple of shifts here and there, without any pressure to do more,” he says.
To register for the Curry Life Culinary Workshop
Curry Life Culinary Workshop and Networking Dinner is taking place on SUNDAY 25th July 2021 FROM 4PM TO 10PM, at the Crowne Plaza London Docklands, Royal Victoria Dock, Western Gateway, London E16 1AL.
Participating chefs and restaurants will receive a certificate for attending the culinary workshop and panel session. The headline sponsor for the event is JUST EAT, with additional event partners including Unisoft Solutions, CLCC and Travel Links Worldwide.
Those interested in attending this event must reserve tickets in advance.