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Curry is King in Britain

Dipna Anand

Dipna Anand
Dipna Anand

By Natalia Ningthoujam

She comes from a family of chefs and co-owns Southall-based Brilliant Restaurant that specialises in Punjabi cooking with a Kenyan twist. Dipna Anand, a London-based Indian chef, says the city has welcomed Indian curries with open arms.

“Indian cuisine is pretty big in the UK. So much so that the national dish, fish and chips, has been replaced by curry. Fridays have become curry days as people look forward to eating Indian food on weekends. London is full of Indian restaurants,” Anand said in an email interaction from London.

“Indian food is synonymous with chicken tikka masala and curries. However, awareness is increasing by the day. The new generation is a little more adventurous. They are trying out other dishes on the menu, especially fusion foods wherein the Indian cuisine is fused with ingredients from around the world,” she added.

Most of the recipes on the menu at Brilliant, which has been host to popular names like Kevin Costner, Prince Charles and Cliff Richard, date to 1950 and were created by Anand’s grandfather Bishen Dass Anand when the first Brilliant Restaurant opened in Nairobi.

“We are the only ones to offer this. We use a lot of East African vegetables and ingredients,” said the chef, who has also unveiled her new cookbook titled “Beyond Brilliant”, which is divided into five parts – Welcome and Our Brilliant Career; A Brilliant Student and Teacher; The Brilliant Restaurant; The Brilliant Family; and The Big Brilliant Wedding.

“It has everything you would want to know about me, my father, grandfather and the history of The Brilliant. The book has some amazing recipes which are easy and tasty and can be made using all the ingredients present in your kitchen,” she said.

From a young age, Anand, now 30, started taking a keen interest in cooking.

“I used to watch mum in the kitchen. Then when I went to the restaurant I was intrigued to watch my dad cooking in the kitchen. He told me stories about grandfather and how he used to cook for the Maharajas back in Kenya in the 1950s,” said Anand, whose grandfather was originally from Gujranwala town of undivided India, now in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

When asked why most of the popular chefs are men, she said: “Women at home do it more out of the love and care for their families. It exudes warmth. This is precisely why even if you are the best restaurant in the world abroad, you still miss the ‘Maa ke haath ka khaana’ (food cooked by the mother).

“While with the men, it is completely different. They take to cooking more as a profession. I would say they turn their passion into a profession. They undergo rigorous training and understand every nuance. For them it becomes a science first and then more of an art as the years go by. I guess this could be the reason why they seem to do well.”

This is, however, changing, says Anand, and soon people will see the gender disparity fading away.

She believes that Indian food does not have to be unhealthy and that it depends on how you cook it and spice it.

“I am not asking you to eliminate all the fat; it’s an art rather – of slightly adapting some of the ingredients to make the same dish in a healthier manner. Tandoori cooking is great because when you barbeque the food in a clay oven, excessive fat tends to drip off,” she said.

When she makes a curry, she tries not to use saturated fat.

“I use vegetable oils such as rapeseed and corn oil in place of butter and ghee,” Anand said.