The World that Keeps the Kitchen Going
By Das Sreedharan | Published: 27th February 2016 10:00 PM |
Antony Bourdain’s ‘Kitchen Confidential’ was a revelation and eye-opener to the world of restaurant industry. Sixteen years ago, it exposed real life stories of chefs and kitchens. In 2016, we look at this trade in another way and weave new tales. Depending on situations, the stories get funny, boiling, egoistic and creative too.
A new year generates mixed expectations in our business that depends on weather, local economy and, of course, tourist flow to London. On top of these, our prime concern today is the staff shortage in all levels of this thriving business. In this scenario you come across some priceless workaholics in catering profession. It’s gloomy and sick when you know you are helpless.
David Cameron’s performance at the European Referendum in Brussels has been the main debate this week. Having won some of his arguments, he’s expected to face a tough opposition from his own party as much as the labour Party concerning Britain remain in the European Union. Whatever be the take away from the big conference, the UK is unable to control immigration from weaker economic zones of Europe, while unemployment continues to rise here.
Once known as the curry capital of the world, Britain’s Indian restaurants are declining in popularity due to tighter control on work permits for catering professionals. Most restaurants survive with limited specialist cooks and with no option of replacement when someone’s sick or on a holiday. Unfortunately, there’s no union for restaurant owners or employees evident in this big community of Asian eateries, so chances of fighting this issue with the government is dubious.
Although ethnic restaurants started to fill their vacancies with new immigrants from Romania and Poland, their only attraction is the newly-announced higher minimum wage. It’s a short-term relief for the business as they keep moving faster than you can imagine. Curry houses—whether run by the Bangladeshi community or our own people—had the tradition of friendly service and good longstanding relationship with local customers. With inexperienced people who have no interest or lack the basic know-how of our food, that’s not happening anymore.
This Valentine’s dinner was not too great due to unkind weather. Nevertheless, business in the New Year had been good. It doesn’t give us too much pleasure though as you witness veteran staff with excess work and escalating tension around them. Looking at the traditional nature and growth of Indian cuisine, it’s not like any other trendy food of our time. Indian food has survived in this country for more than hundred years and influenced every generation.
After big announcements during the Indian prime minister’s visit last year, Indian food industry expected a little bit of support from the British prime minister since this industry has contributed so much to this country and this much-loved cuisine is a big attraction for visitors to this country. Thousands of families make a living from this trade. Moreover, for youngsters nothing else has come up so far to match the weekend fondness for curry and beer.
This evening, I went to the kitchen after listening to a customer’s complaint regarding a slight delay in serving his meal. I saw a mystified Joseph, an inexpert supervisor, staring at 30 odd dinner orders. Opposite to him was a tired head chef not being able to find any rhythm in his cooking. While you see entry gates freely open for EU citizens, we wish some of those privileges went to our people who could do restaurant jobs and save this industry from an imminent downfall.
I sat down in the silence of the night and watched the midnight rain wash away London’s apprehensions. I wondered what would be that golden solution for my industry’s problem as the new day begins. ”
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain of restaurants