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Judging Asian Curry Awards

Judging Asian Curry Awards

When the British colonized much of South Asia, they never thought that one day South Asian food, particularly curry, would conquer the hearts and minds of all the Brits. The colonized world could never have imagined that one day, a chef from never-colonized Nepal would surprise everyone by entering a curry competition and presenting ‘Jhol Momo’ as an appetizer.

In a remarkable achievement for Nepali cuisine, Chef Saroj Thapaliya secured the second runner-up position at the prestigious Asian Curry Awards, representing Panas Restaurant in London. The awards ceremony, which took place a few days ago at West London University, celebrated the culinary talents of Asian and Oriental chefs from across the UK.

The top prize of the night was awarded to Jeevan Lal from Babur Restaurant in Forest Hill, London. Dev Bishwal from The Cook’s Tale in Canterbury took the first runner-up spot. Chef Saroj wowed the nine-member judging panel with his expertly crafted dishes: Jhol Momo, an appetizer, and Farsi Masu, a main course featuring pumpkin and goat meat curry. His mastery of these traditional Nepali dishes earned him the title of Best Nepali Chef of the Year 2024.

The Asian & Oriental Chef Awards is a national competition open to professional chefs working in restaurants and takeaways representing cuisines from Bangladesh, Burma, China, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Middle East, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam. The competition is organized by the Asian Catering Federation and judged by a panel of respected chefs, including Tony Khan, Thomas Chan, Rajesh Suri, Steve Gomes, George Shaw, Shahagir Farouk, Riya Amber Tesia, Ken Wan, Teddy KC Chan, and myself.

As one of the judges, I expressed pride in seeing Nepali cuisine gaining global recognition. Competitions like the Asian Curry Awards are crucial for promoting dishes like momo as international symbols of Nepali culinary heritage. This year’s event saw nine chefs, selected from numerous contestants across the UK, showcasing their talents in the finals.

For me, the event held particular significance. After nearly 25 years of dedicated service in the curry industry, both locally and globally, it was a great honor to serve as a judge at the Asian Curry Awards. Often regarded as the Oscars of the Asian restaurant industry in the UK, this event not only celebrates culinary excellence but also underscores the vital role of Asian cuisine in British society.

Reflecting on my roots, I’m reminded of my humble beginnings in Malekhu, where I grew up enjoying my mama’s famous ‘aloo chop’. The journey from being the nephew of a beloved street food vendor to standing in the British Parliament as a recognized culinary expert is nothing short of remarkable. It’s a story of dedication, hard work, and the unyielding support of my community.

Curry has become an integral part of British culture, yet its roots extend far beyond India. Cuisines from Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka have significantly contributed to the rich tapestry of flavors that curry represents today. Notably, Thai curry has set a global standard, much like the distinctive curries from Nepal, prepared by talented Nepali chefs alongside their Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan counterparts.

The Asian Curry Award celebrates this diversity and aims to empower and elevate the profile of Nepali cuisine on the global dining table. Curry has become a cornerstone of the UK’s culinary landscape, making a substantial contribution to the economy and influencing global food trends. The UK’s curry industry, valued at over five billion pounds annually, operates more than 10,000 restaurants, providing employment to approximately 100,000 people.

Having spent a quarter-century in the curry business globally, particularly within Indian, Arabic, and Oriental cuisines, I’m now incredibly proud to see Nepali curry gaining recognition on the same platform. The rise of Nepali curry is not only making a significant difference to the UK's economy but also contributing to local employment and enhancing British civilization through its rich cultural influence. It is a testament to the dynamic and inclusive nature of the UK's culinary scene that Nepali curry, alongside other Asian flavors, is celebrated and enjoyed, further enriching the nation's diverse gastronomic heritage.

Being a judge at the Asian Curry Awards was a significant milestone. This role not only recognized my contributions to the industry but also highlighted the importance of Asian cuisine in British culture. The experience of judging alongside legends of the curry industry and representing Nepali cuisine was incredibly rewarding.

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of taking British-style curry around the world, embedding it as an integral part of British culture. Whether it was crafting menus for international sporting events or cooking for elite audiences, each experience contributed to my growth and the promotion of our culinary heritage.

The Asian Curry Awards serve as an inspiration of excellence, showcasing the best in the industry. This year, the competition was intense, with talented chefs from across the UK competing for top honors. The event celebrated individual achievements and highlighted the collective resilience and innovation of the Asian catering community.

Chef Saroj Thapaliya’s achievement at the Asian Curry Awards is a testament to the growing recognition of Nepali cuisine on the global stage. The event celebrated not only individual excellence but also the collective strength and innovation of the Asian culinary community. As the industry continues to evolve, initiatives like the ACF’s support program will be crucial in ensuring that the rich heritage of Asian cuisine continues to thrive and enrich British culture.

Baral is a UK-based R&D chef