He is known as the ‘Prince of Curry’ and after speaking to him, it certainly is not wrong to say that Enam Ali MBE is the heart and soul of British curry industry. Born in Bangladesh in 1960, he came to Britain to study Hospitality and Management and started the now famous, Le Raj restaurant in 1989, one of the first to achieve Michelin star status. He has been frequently called to give expert opinion on issues relating to Asian community and hospitality sector. He brought out Spice Business Magazine in 1998 which is very popular in the world of British curry businesses.
We caught up with Mr Ali, ahead of the prestigious Annual British Curry Awards.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I came to this country as a first generation. When I came here, I realised food wasn’t the first choice for a night out. It was more lets go for a beer. Then we developed a lovely concept with curry. Seen my own self, hard work, emotions. Sometimes smelly, sometimes I lost, but I never gave up and made lots of sacrifices. We were very humble. It was an experience. Meeting people, sharing their struggles and making money at the same time. Now look at the industry. 30 years in the curry industry and I love it.
And how did the idea of British Curry Awards come up?
I thought to recognise the services of unsung individuals of the curry industry last 60 years. At that time awards were doled out to people who did not even serve a proper meal at their restaurants. I worked two years on the idea of the awards and formally launched them in 2005, which is now regarded the Oscars of hospitality industry. At the time I set out to create the awards, not many believed in me. It was a struggle. The banks didn’t support my idea, there were limited if any sponsors. Everyone said it was a difficult task, and that no one can achieve such a professional scale of awards. I so badly wanted to do something for my community. I wanted to give something back, I wanted an opportunity to celebrate the hardwork of the Curry industry in the UK. I wanted to bring celebrities to meet my community, to offer them an opportunity to have pictures and feel special.
I was very fortunate to have celebrity friends who backed me and supported my event, by giving me their time.
With the UK curry industry boasting 10,000 restaurants and 80,000 employees, the awards have become a highlight on the UK social calendar, and each year showcases the vast allure of the £3.6bn a year curry industry. What do you feel is the main reason for the success of curries in the UK?
Hospitality industry belongs to all of us, English or not. If someone has a curry here that isn’t good they won’t blame India or Bangladesh for the poor curry. So it’s the hard work, passion and dedication we bring to our work, that I feel has been the success of the Curry industry. If we look at Bradford, I think of Aagrah, look at their hard work. If they gave up and didn’t survive these years, then what else would be there. So it’s the dedication of the industry people, that I feel attributes to the success of the Curry Industry.
What is your favourite dish?
Any good quality food. I am a perfectionist and extremely sensitive when it comes to food. I can tell you whether the lamp chop is male or female. I can tell you on the spot. I am a true connoseaur of food. I can tell you how happy the dish is. I am blessed to have this skill and hence why I don’t often eat out at other restaurants, as I will be able to totally Sensitivity of the behind the scenes. I want to leave this legacy, its the respect I have built over the years, therefore I don’t visit many at all. It’s a great industry.
In just half an hour I learnt how and why the British Curry industry stands at a staggering value of £3.6bn. The passion and dedication with which Mr Ali spoke and the sheer knowledge and determination.
With the UK curry industry boasting 10,000 restaurants and 80,000 employees, the awards have become a highlight on the UK social calendar, and each year showcases the vast allure of the £3.6bn a year curry industry.
The curry industry is not only a lucrative mainstay of the economy but also an integral part of the nation’s social and culinary fabric.
A pioneer in the UK catering and hospitality sector, the British Curry Awards has been lauded as a pivotal UK institution, with Prime Minister David Cameron calling the awards ‘the curry Oscars’. He went on to say: “The British Curry Awards is an uplifting and inspiring evening.”
This year’s event will once again see a plethora of high-profile guests in attendance, and will include celebrities, dignitaries, politicians, business leaders, and of course, top names from the culinary industry in the UK.
The gala dinner will also feature quality entertainment amidst a gourmet banquet. This year’s event will also celebrate a Best of British theme as it reflects on the UK’s remarkable achievements during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The nomination process for the awards encourages people to put forward their favourite Indian eatery for a well-deserved accolade and the awards are estimated to draw a record number of nominations.
The humble curry has come a very long way since it first came to these shores. Indian cuisine has now become the favourite food of the nation, and is enjoyed by millions of people across the UK, from students to professionals and pensioners.
Most people will have a favourite curry that they will order when they go to a restaurant, meaning that Asian cuisine is deeply embedded in the psyche of the British people.
The star studded 8th British Curry awards are set to take place on Monday November 26 at Battersea Evolution, Chelsea Bridge Entrance, Battersea Park, London, SW11 4NJ. For more information please visit www.britishcurryaward.co.uk