THIS week work started on a major new development, which is expected to cement Bradford’s reputation as the UK capital of curry.

The World Food Centre, which will be based on Filey Street in the city centre, will include two restaurants, a hotel and banqueting suites, and will cost around £5 million.

But one of the most interesting aspects of the development is the training facility, which the developers hope will ensure Bradford becomes the centre of top class Asian food. Up to 100 people a year could be trained in the facility.

The plans are by Mi7 Developments, working in partnership with Jinnah Restaurants, which will fund the proposal, and the World Curry Festival.

The Telegraph & Argus spoke to Zulfi Karim, organiser of the Festival and owner of Curryosity cafe in Saltaire, about why such a training centre is needed in the city.

He warned that unless new, skilled chefs are created locally, the city’s curry industry could face a swift decline.

He said: “In Bradford curry is a big business. It is not just the restaurants, it is the whole supply chain, we’ve got a great network of food distribution in the city, including big suppliers of spice and rice.

“We think the industry is worth about £500 million to Bradford, and it employs thousands of people. The city’s curry houses are also vital to Bradford’s tourism and visitor economy.

“People visit Bradford for a number of different reasons, and curry is one of those, whether we like it or not.

“But although it is a big industry, it faces some major challenges.”

He said that many of the first generation of immigrants from India and Pakistan came to the UK with a strong heritage of cooking. Many of today’s curry restaurants were set up by this generation, which were trained to cook in Asia.

However, Mr Karim said that many of the people working in today’s curry houses have little in formal training, and recent government curbs on immigration meant that it was much more difficult to recruit chefs from abroad.

He said: “The curry industry didn’t necessarily invest in training chefs. Bradford is a great place to get curry, but there has been a lack of talent coming through for many, many years.

“As businesses grow, it is often the case that the person who set it up 50 years ago steps back and is now in the the office dealing with the business, rather than cooking.

“Now where does the chef in the kitchen come from? It used to be that as the business owner stood back, you could get a good quality chef from Asia. Because if this, the UK wasn’t producing the high quality college courses that focused on curry. We weren’t investing in training that next generation of chefs.

“When the government changed the regulations for entering into the country in 2008 it meant it was much more difficult to bring more chefs in. Spaces in kitchens started to open, and businesses struggled to fill them.

“We don’t have the chefs being trained. There is a big gap, and currently that isn’t being filled. School, collages and places where they train people for the hospitality industry are not turning out what we would call curry chefs. I’m not sure why this is the case. As an employer, I’m finding people who come out of these courses aren’t people I can take on in my kitchen without having to give them additional training.

“Requirements of our restaurants aren’t being fulfilled by existing education providers. I think that’s where we are now.

“We need to raise awareness out there that there is an industry here that is very popular, and for it to survive we need to raise awareness that we have this industry that is very popular, but for it to survive and grow it needs to look at how it is going to train and recruit future chefs.

“There have been a few attempts to set up curry collages, but they’ve all fallen at the first hurdle. One issue is we are short of people to train the trainees.

“There needs to be more support at government level and at local level for the curry industry to get the support it needs. The way forward is not to look abroad, it is to train people from this country to be great chefs.

“One of the issues for a lot of the better chefs is the language problem. A lot don’t have the English skills. This means it is very difficult for these chefs to train emerging talent.

“Bradford has to lead the way with this due to its rich heritage of curry and its existing businesses.

“We have had to set up this Centre of Excellence because there is no other provision in place to do this training. It is a shame something like this is not already available.”

“The next great curry chef might not be from a South Asian background. It would take great satisfaction in having a head chef who wasn’t from the South Asian community. I’d really like to see that happen, but we’ve got a long way to go.

“We have to move with the times. There are probably some businesses that probably need to go, they haven’t moved with the times and are not sustainable - they don’t cater for the market they serve.

“We do need to sort out the wheat from the chaff, that will not necessarily be a bad thing.”