The Britsh Curry Oscar
The British have gone into a tailspin over the future of their curry quality which is now hovering over the United Kingdom’s immigration policy.
On December 1, 2014, David Cameron, whose government has further tightened visa restrictions on curry chefs from South Asia, addressed the gathering at the British Curry Awards, known as the Oscars of British Curry, by video: “I’m sorry I can’t be with you tonight,” Cameron said. “Not just because I’m missing out on the chicken tikka masala I hear you’ve got on the menu … .” He was, of course, referring to Britain’s national dish that superseded fish and chips several years ago.
He might actually — and most of his cabinet — be shortly complaining of a quality shortfall in British curry.
A dearth of curry cooks has put curry houses at risk. Chefs have participated in ministerial level talks to ease the 2006 visa restrictions on curry chefs from outside the European Economic Area. The present government has suggested that British chefs be trained to cook curries.
If it were that simple!
Which doesn’t mean a curry is that complicated.
It means that most learners would have no background of eating artisanal curries, which is one way of describing home cooking. They’ll have to start from scratch while the South Asian learners will show a lead of fifteen to twenty years — of discernment, matured taste-buds, instinctive quality assessment, goal-setting and not technique.
So when a British born student starts cooking lessons in an institution, we’re looking at a trainee who was brought up on spotted dick, toad in the hole, roasts, pasties and pies. This solemn individual might not know how to cook, but has well-developed taste-buds screeching good and bad signals to the brain — except for the unfortunates brought up on twinkies.
The curry taste-buds of this earnest seeker of culinary oriental mysteries in a curry institute are a blank canvas waiting for curry powder, curry pastes and other shortcuts to be validated as the modernization of South Asian cuisine. The bewhiskered colonial majors who concocted and flogged their curry powders to a docile public would be delightedly chuckling in their well-kept graves in South Asia.
So take heed, Mr. Cameron. You are treading on thin ice (or curry?) here — one slip and you’ll be up to your ears in spicy mediocrity, your Richard James suit from Savile Row ruined forever.
You might be content with your bangers and mash, but what about your poor voters? Are they really going to be content with a pint of lager and chicken tikka masala that sucks? Somewhere down the line you owe yourself a re-election, and not playing cricket is unhealthy for the swing vote at the cost of temporary appeasement, the Munich of curry.
Columbus serendipitously reached America, following his Indian Dream of dominating the spice trade. That happened, and turmeric and cardamoms changed the world balance of power.
But the dream was hijacked by the George Washington gang’s dangle of the pursuit of happiness in front of migrant hopefuls to create the American Dream. The British seized the opportunity, acquired India, the Biggest Jewel in their Crown and owned the Indian Dream. Through curry houses, they still do.
And if you reduce their Indian Dream to mediocrity, they will have their say. So book a table at Veeraswamy’s on Regent Street. Savor your chicken tikka masala in opulence and have a think.
Bon appétit, Monsieur le Premier Ministre!