Surely the UK’s favourite food warrants a celebration lasting a week – or are you among the small minority who think a day would suffice?
That’s the burning question that has been exercising industry experts – as we wave a not-so-fond farewell to 2020 and cast our eyes forward to a better, more successful 2021.
Here’s why the majority of people favour a week-long celebration – in the shape of the well-established National Curry Week, held each Autumn for the past 20 years!
Strong support for week
Since being launched in 1998, National Curry Week has become a firm fixture in the calendar – offering strong support for the curry industry with the three-pronged aims of showcasing the nation’s favourite cuisine, celebrating and supporting varied components of the curry restaurant industry and raising money for poverty-focused charities.
Over the past 21 years, hundreds of restaurants, caterers, pubs and home cooks have come together for one week to celebrate all things curry cuisine and culture – including unique dinners generating funds for causes both at home and abroad – with next year’s event scheduled for 7-12 October 2021.
Yet, despite National Curry Week’s continuing significance, a British Curry Day has been mooted for early December by some people from the curry industry – a call which can only serve to divert focus away from the already well-established National Curry Week and which is receiving mixed reactions from the curry industry. This may be a good point to remind ourselves of the aims and values of the founder of National Curry Week two decades ago, curry pioneer Peter Grove – who many restaurateurs and industry leaders feel would be disrespected
by any dilution of the week-long celebration.
Late Peter Grove
Grove’s love affair with curry
The late Peter Grove, a well-known and established journalist, had a vision to promote awareness and appreciation of the curry industry after falling in love with curry cuisine.
In 1992, he started the Best in Britain Awards (BIBA) for the Asian restaurant sector -followed by National Curry Week in 1998 and Curry Capital of Britain in 1999.
Peter dedicated much of his rich and varied career to the curry industry: he worked with The Chartered Institute for Environmental Health (CIEH) for three years, running their National Curry Chef competition – as well as becoming President of The Federation of Specialist Restaurants and founder of The Curry Tree Charitable Fund and Menu Magazine.
Peter edited several travel and food guides, including The Real Curry Restaurant Guide from 1990. He appeared regularly on radio and TV as an expert in ethnic food and drink and co-wrote Curry Culture – a very British love affair with his wife Colleen as well as Flavours of History.
He also ran several major websites on ethnic food, drink and sport, which generated over 1 million visitors a month.
A prominent feature of National Curry Week has been the Curry Capital of Britain – a competition where cities race for the sought-after award through a combination of the quality of the food and fund-raising activities.
Held annually since 2001, the event was formed as a reaction to hostile publicity following racial unrest in areas of London – offering an opportunity to showcase UK cities promoting multi culturalism.
The focus was on cooperation between councils, restaurants and educational bodies to promote the curry industry, alleviate unemployment and promote community cohesion. Since the competition began, only five cities have been named Curry Capital: Bradford, Glasgow, Leicester, Birmingham and West London.
To this day, Peter is seen as a great Curry pioneer and an industry friend who has done so much for the curry world. Peter’s widow, Colleen, has spoken highly of the campaigns he inspired, and previously said: “I can think of no better lasting tribute than to continue the work he started with National Curry Week and The Curry Capital of Britain. Their role in highlighting the contribution made to the wider community by the Asian restaurant industry was a message that was very dear to him.” Now in its 22nd year, National Curry Week is still celebrated widely – and continues to showcase our beloved Curry Houses across the nation. So many are understandably now wondering: what is the point in introducing a new British Curry Day, when there is already a long-established, successful and widely recognised campaign dedicated to curry cuisine?
“We should be celebrating for longer – not shorter”
Many leaders within the industry echo the sentiment that, with an established national campaign already in place, the introduction of British Curry Day is unnecessary. Here’s what just a few have been saying…
Pasha Khandaker MBE
Pasha Khandokar MBE, former President of Bangladesh Caterers Association (BCA), says: “To be honest, I’m not sure why it’s necessary to introduce a British Curry Day now. Peter started National Curry Week a long time ago, when curry wasn’t that popular or an important part of everyday British life.
“Momentum was built up slowly, and now many leading industry brands, and even supermarkets, are united behind it. So, when you have an established week like this, I don’t find any reason to go small again – a week and a day makes a big difference.”
Pasha adds: “The curry industry is not having a pleasant time now due to challenges of the pandemic. Yet British curry remains the most successful food and has created millions of curry lovers in this country, it’s a part of people’s lives and they cannot live without curry.”
“If you want to see a strong post-Covid recovery, as an industry we should unite behind National Curry Week, plan better for our business and create mass and broader appeal for people to enjoy and support curry business more.” Pasha ultimately believes in celebrating all that British curry represents for longer, not shorter. “We like to see the curry industry looming larger and going forwards, not backwards,” he added.
“We expect National Curry Week’s wonderful tradition to continue for another 20 years”
Kingfisher Beer, the world’s No. 1 authentic Indian beer brand and National Curry Week sponsor, staunchly supports the continuing work of National Curry Week – explaining: “We have been loyal supporters of National Curry Week ever since Peter Grove launched it over 20 years ago. When Peter sadly passed away in 2016, his widow, Colleen Grove, asked Kingfisher whether we would like to continue his work. Since then, we have been keeping his legacy alive.”
“National Curry Week is a time to honour the Nation’s favourite dish and to support the British curry industry. We have done this in a multitude of ways, from Indian street food markets to the creation of Curry Top Trumps and cookbooks. We expect this wonderful tradition to continue for another 20 years!” says, Shaun Goode, Chief Operating Officer of KBE drinks representing Kingfisher Beer Brand.
“Take the National Curry Week to even greater heights!”Restaurateurs within the industry likewise oppose the idea of a truncated celebration – instead preferring to see more effort being put into the already established National Curry Week.
Cyrus Todiwala OBE
Cyrus Todiwala OBE, Chef at Cafe Spice Namaste in London, and Brand Ambassador for National Curry Week, says: “With National Curry Week having been established since the late nineties, and having gained so much publicity over the years, why do we need yet another initiative so soon after the original? I feel more muscle needs to be put behind the National Curry Week, to take it to even greater heights. Unity, I feel, is my preferred choice.”
While Cyrus may not view British Curry Day as going a backwards for the industry, he sees the new campaign as unwarranted: “When we already have a week to celebrate something, why depend on a single day? Instead, this day – if it is important – should be used to highlight the successes of National Curry Week and ask UK citizens to continue backing what everyone has done.
“It should be focused on reminding people of how great this industry is, how much it has done for hundreds of good causes and why we should, therefore, continue to celebrate it.”
Cyrus believes this new campaign, away from National Curry Week, also has the potential to undermine the great work done before it: “By having a British Curry Day, it can dilute the original ambition and therefore confuse people.
“Britain is a nation reaching a stage of charity fatigue. It is best to contain the urge for more and more support. I believe that people are more inclined to contribute and raise more funds when it’s less pushy.
“Overall, my feelings are to collectively give the National Curry Week greater impetus and drive it to an even higher level.
“When we already have a week to do something, why depend on a day? The new proposal undermines all the great work done before.”
M A Munim
M A Munim, current president of the Bangladesh Caterers Association (BCA), the oldest and main organisation representing the Catering Industry run by ethnic Bangladeshis since 1960s, views National Curry Week as the only national platform within the Curry Industry where people can come together to celebrate their love of curry.
He says: “We are already celebrating British curry by actively participating in National Curry Week – and we’ve done so every year for over two decades – so there is no point to also have a British Curry Day. I see it as contradictory.
“It also undermines the great work done by our pioneers over the last two decades,” he says. “We will continue to support and promote the National Curry Week and see do not see any justification for a new British Curry Day.”Not all those within the industry view British Curry Day as necessarily detrimental to the Curry Industry, however.
Tofozzul Miah, the current secretary general of the British Bangladesh Caterers Association, sees no harm in another one-day curry day.
“If it is done in a fair way; it’s better than bad for the industry”: People will talk about our industry, they will talk about our food,” he believes.
“Our curry is in every home from Docklands to Scotland. Despite having a week called National Curry Week, the one-day Curry Day will do no harm, as Curry Week is old and so well established,” says Tofozzul.
Shahanur Khan “Weeks are better than one day – customers become more aware!”
Shahanur Khan, the founding secretary general of the British Bangladesh Caterers Association (BBCA), says: “Since we already have a curry week called National Curry Week, I think it’s better to continue with this one. We were told that Curry Day is only meant to celebrate coming out of the lockdown; a weekly celebration is much better.”
“Weeks are better than one day because they raise greater awareness among people,” says Shahanur. “As customers become more aware, it encourages them to patronise restaurants and takeaways.
“Especially if it’s a week, if a customer misses one day, another day they can go, due to publicity on social media, local newspapers and so on. If someone wants to celebrate a particular day, we don’t really understand what vision he/she is pursuing.”
“Ultimately, we shouldn’t be brushing off the years of hard work and progress Peter Grove made in promoting the curry industry. “We should collectively continue to support National Curry Week as Peter Grove’s legacy – and do the right thing by giving credit to where it is due.”
Oli Khan MBE
While some may view a new national campaign as harmless, others also argue it will damage the curry industry if it seeks to benefit the individuals involved, rather than the industry as a whole:
“If British Curry Day is doing something good to promote the industry, then that’s fine, but my fear is that they are promoting only themselves, and not the industry,” Chef Oli Khan MBE says.
Oli, who set the world record earlier this year for the largest Onion Bhaji, is therefore not backing British Curry Day, nor its so called ‘Back the Bhaji’ campaign:
“National Curry Week has been running for quite some time now – and being a former secretary general of BCA (Bangladesh Caterers Association) when I was in the office, we signed a lifelong partnership with the National Curry Week campaign. We have established many promotions ever since. So, with National Curry Week already firmly in place, I don’t think there is any necessity to have another event.”
Khan also feels apprehensive about British Curry Day’s lack of communication with industry representatives: “With a national campaign like this, it needs to be promoted way before its launch; I first heard about it less than a week ago, just after the website launched, which doesn’t make sense to me.
“It has to be promoted widely beforehand and the industry has to have been informed – you can’t just run this as an individual as it’s a national issue. To raise your voice, you should call a meeting with all the representatives and organisations of the curry industry to discuss.”
As well as the British Curry Day’s lack of promotion prior to launch, Khan sees the timeframe of one single day as inadequate: “Even National Curry Week could have more time and that’s already a week – so why decide to hold for only one day?
There are 12,000 curry houses in the United Kingdom – so any national issue which helps the industry should be done collectively, rather than by an individual.”
“My fear is that they are promoting only themselves, not the industry”Many other voices in the industry also agree that British Curry Day’s small timeframe is the most significant issue when it comes to raising awareness.
British Curry Day
On the other hand, George Shaw, press spokesman for British Curry Day, says: “British Curry Day commemorates the lives and achievements of those restaurateurs and chefs who created our unique British Curry fusion in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“The day allows the younger generation of restaurant owners to remember their history and celebrate those early ‘curry pioneers’, so many of whom have been lost during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Despite hospitality businesses being devastated by repeated lockdowns, the curry has shown its usual generosity to local charities and good causes. A last-minute government extension of lockdown restrictions, meant that many restaurants remained closed to eat-in customers and planned fundraising meals had to be cancelled or curtailed.
“Nevertheless, the inaugural British Curry Day was deemed a great success by restaurants and customers alike. Many owners got behind the #BackTheBhaji campaign, donating the cost of the starter sold on the day, to their chosen charity. The onion bhaji is symbolic of the unique fusion of ‘British Curry’, created by those curry pioneers.
“These people came to a strange foreign land at the invitation of the British government and through their own endeavours and sheer hard work – often enduring blatant racism from post pub-closing time drunks – built a special industry, which is now an integral part of British society.” “Next year British Curry Day will be held 1st December 2021,” adds George Shaw.