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The Curry House      UK Curry Scene




CIEH - FSA National Curry Chef Competition 2003
26th November 2003
Judge Sarah Gordon tests the temperature of Farooq Ahmed's meat dish
What's she doing with that? Judge Sarah Gordon tests the temperature of Farooq Ahmed's meat dish.
      Imagine the scene. You are cooking a curry, a side dish and a rice dish for some dinner guests. But these are no ordinary guests. They are Very Important Guests. So you want to do your best. Hang on a minute. The Very Important Guests are in the kitchen and they're watching your every move. They're even taking notes! And what's this? One of the Guests is poking something into the meat from your curry. It's a food thermometer! The Guest is actually checking whether you have cooked the meat to a safe temperature. Help! You've only been cooking for half an hour but all you have left is another 30 minutes before the meal must be served. You glance round and the Very Important Guests are still watching you, making sure you wash your hands after handling raw meat and rummaging around in your selection of ingredients. Now there's only 10 minutes left to finish cooking and present your meal so it looks attractive. But what's happening? Oh no! Your beautiful creation of layered rice and vegetables won't come out of its mould! Aaaaarrrggh, panic!!!!


Don't worry, it's only a dream. Well, it's a dream for the likes of you and me but not for the 8 contenders in this year's National Curry Chef Competition. For them the nightmare was real. Because the main sponsors are the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) not only were the chefs judged on the aroma, texture, taste and appearance of their food but they were also assessed on their hygiene awareness and safe food handling practices. Now that's a tall order in only 60 minutes but, to add to the pressure, the competition was held at the BBC Good Food Show, the largest food show in the UK, and the contestants had to perform in a theatre watched by a large audience and with photographers poking cameras into their faces and their food.       Jamal Uddin Ahmed
Jamal Uddin Ahmed feeling the pressure as the judges look over his shoulder


judge Cyrus Todiwala
Jess, the compère, gets a bit of a look from judge Cyrus Todiwala

      The proceedings were scrutinised by no less than 6 judges. The celebrity judge was restaurateur, broadcaster and writer Cyrus Todiwala, sorry I'll correct that, Cyrus Todiwala MBE. The other judges included food writer Roopa Gulati and Sarah Gordon, the local Environmental Health Officer, who did indeed come armed with her food thermometer.


Chad Rahman, the happy winner
Chad Rahman, the happy winner
      All 8 chefs worked so hard and cooked fabulous meals but, of course, there can only be one winner. This year's worthy champion was Chad Rahman of the Mumtaj Restaurant in St. Albans. Chad won over the judges with his menu of Samundar Ka Khazana (red snapper fillets), Murgh Noorani (guinea fowl breasts) and Dum Pukht Parda Lamb Biryani (rice steamed in lamb juice). After it was over Chad had a chance to relax and consider what he'd achieved "I am really thrilled and honoured to have won the Curry Chef Competition." he told us "It has been a tiring day, but well worth all the effort. I will be giving the trophy pride of place back in my restaurant and I hope it will impress the customers!" Not only did Chad win his trophy but he also went home with a big fat cheque for 3,000.       Murgh Noorani, one of Chad's winning dishes
Murgh Noorani, one of Chad's winning dishes


Mohamed Sultan in action Mohamed Sultan in action       Joining Chad on the podium were Jamal Uddin Ahmed, the South East finalist, who received 1,000 and Mohamed Sultan, the North finalist, who went home with 500. But the other chefs in the competition should still be proud of themselves. This was, after all, the national final. Each of the chef's had reached this stage because they had won their local heats and their regional finals. The only contestant who hadn't been through the regional competitions was Chad Rahman himself who, as last year's champion, was there to defend his title. I can't tell you how much I admire these chefs. They worked their socks off in their allotted 60 minutes without any help and with all that pressure on their young shoulders. If this is the standard of the up and coming restaurateurs then we British curry fans have a lot to look forward to.


My one disappointment of the day was that it was only the judges who were fortunate enough to taste the chefs' fabulous creations. We poor onlookers were kept well back from the action. I particularly fancied having a taste of the marinated lamb cooked by Robin Gomes, the West and Wales finalist, but I wasn't quite close enough to grab a sample after the judges had finished with it. Never mind, there's always next year although the rules of the competition don't allow Chad Rahman to compete again. Instead, he'll be on the other side of the counter as one of the judges and the only pressure he'll be suffering is having to make up his mind which plate of excellence he should pick as the winner. Lucky Chad I say.       Robin Gomes racing against the clock Robin Gomes racing against the clock





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© 2003 David W Smith