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Taking part in the Curry Life Food Festival is a great way for chefs to improve their knowledge and skills

The Curry Life Food Festival, which showcases some of the UK’s favourite curry dishes alongside the best of British regional cuisine, is taking place in October in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It gives participants the chance to learn new skills, share recipes and gather tips from a range of experts. It’s an inspiring educational, culinary and cultural experience and this year’s UK delegation will be led by Dominic Chapman, chef/patron at The Beehive in White Waltham, and former head chef for Heston Blumenthal.

Learning curve

Curry Life spoke to former participants to find out what they learnt when they took part, and why it’s a must-attend event. Kayum Ali is the owner and executive chef at Spice Fusion in Halesowen and attended the festival in 2017, when it was held at the Hyatt Regency Chandigarh in India. He said being part of the event is a great way to promote yourself and your restaurant, and it has helped to boost Spice Fusion’s reputation among its customer base, as well as attracting new customers. 

“I went to one festival in India and I have also attended a few other Curry Life seminars and workshops,” he says. “It has given me a real confidence boost as well as teaching me some new skills. It does involve being away for a few days but it’s definitely been worth it for me.”

For Abul Monsur, chef at Taj Cuisine in Walderslade, attending the festival was also a  memorable experience. He was part of the 2016 event, which took place at the ITC Maurya in New Delhi in India.

Chef Dominic Chapman

“You can share some of your own ideas with the chefs in the country you are visiting as well as gain some new ones that you can use in your restaurant when you return,” he says. “You are learning every day in a fast-paced environment and it’s really exciting to find out about new trends and to see first-hand what others in the industry are doing.”

Monsur adds that sharing knowledge and recipes can be a great way to improve as a chef, not just on a professional level, but a personal one too and being immersed in live cooking demonstrations is a fun way to learn.

Chef Jamal Uddin from Shozna restaurant in Rochester, Kent has previously attended two festivals, one also in India and the other in Dhaka. He says that those chefs that take part get to experience ‘the bigger picture’ of the industry and learn new techniques, particularly as they are surrounded by highly knowledgeable chefs with years of training between them.

Message from British Prime Minister

“It’s definitely worth taking the time to go; when I returned from both festivals, I used everything I learnt to improve my knowledge and to become a better chef,” he says. “They were both fantastic experiences and they have given me more confidence to do things in a bigger and bolder way.”

Widen your knowledge

Those participating can also benefit from advice on health and safety. Shamsul Islam, a regulatory service manager for the London Borough of Brent, has been involved in several festivals and will be attending the forthcoming one in Dhaka. His day job involves working with restaurants, shops and hotels to ensure the health and safety of those who work in the borough. At the festival, he will be on hand to ensure chefs understand about food safety and hygiene, such as washing hands regularly, wearing gloves when preparing and mixing food, wearing a hairnet and ensuring food is cooked thoroughly and that cooked rice is not left out or that rice is not prepared three days in advance, for example. 

“While they are preparing the dishes and the menu, my role is to help raise the hygiene standards of the food and to focus on health, by highlighting how we can make a high-calorie dish such as chicken tikka masala more healthy,” he says. “We can prepare a vegetarian version instead or use olive oil rather than ghee as an example, which is a possible substitute for many dishes or reduce portion sizes. We want to encourage chefs to rethink and redesign the way they work with food and I am advising on the health benefits.”

Islam says chefs can also learn about making their cuisine more energy efficient. “Instead of preparing a dish five times, can you do it in one go in a tandoor oven for example?” he says. “Restaurants are normally open from 5pm until 11pm and with the high prices of energy and climate change, it’s important to learn about energy efficiency as it can help reduce costs and be more beneficial for the environment.”

He adds that those who participate don’t just have the chance to work alongside Michelin-star chefs and executive chefs from five-star hotels, they also get to learn and interact with front-of- house managers who run complex, large events.

“It’s not just about cooking and improving your restaurant – it’s about understanding a whole range of other processes involved in cuisine and food preparation, for example, looking at the latest technology available,” he says. “You can look at all the equipment on offer in the hotels and see how these work and how they can improve processes and help you to better manage your time.”

Participants can also learn about many other aspects that can help refine their attention to details, such as the best types of knives to use for preparation and how to enhance flavours for different palates.

“Chefs get to exchange knowledge and experience the dishes from other chefs, as well as learning new and different ways to present food,” says Islam. “They can also test new equipment and even find out how to redesign a restaurant menu.”

Keith Vaz MP opened festival at Dhaka Sheraton Hotel in 2006

The Festival is taking place from 21-27 October and aims to promote British Bangladeshi chefs’ artistic and culinary skills, highlighting the leading role they play in ensuring curry’s enduring popularity in the UK and beyond. It also aims to strengthen ties between the UK and Bangladesh.

There are limited places available for those who wish to join this exciting culinary journey, or if you are interested in finding out more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Syed Belal Ahmed on 07956 439458 for further details. 

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