Last week, Bradford re-claimed its Curry Capital of Britain title, and was described by organisers as a city that “seems to eat, breathe and even export curry.”
Bradford has now held the honour three times – first in 2004, then last year, and now it has retained the coveted title.
There’s no shortage of high-quality curry restaurants in the district, which is internationally renowned for Asian cuisine.
In September, thousands of people flocked to the World Curry Festival in Bradford’s City Park.
The three-day event featured food stalls, serving street food and speciality dishes, and a pop-up ‘curry theatre’ with demonstrations from well-known curry chefs.
Kaushy Patel, founder of Prashad in Great Horton, which was runner-up in Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurant TV show in 2010, was among the chefs showcasing her skills.
Also in September, Bradford had three winners at the English Curry Awards.
Bradford Council’s tourism team won the title Curry Lover of the Year, for its commitment to the district’s curry industry. The Lifetime Achievement award was presented to Mohammed Sabir from the Aagrah, while Shabir Hussain, founder of the Akbar’s restaurant chain, retained his Curry King of the Year crown.
Tricia Tillotson, Bradford Council’s visitor economy manager, says the Curry Capital of Britain title will further boost businesses.
“There are a whole range of eateries, from cafes to restaurants with a Royal seal of approval. Winning the title will be a boon for businesses throughout the district,” she said.
The curry contest was closely fought, with Bradford and Glasgow both scoring the same number of judges’ points, but Bradford clinched the title by drawing the most votes in public and hungryhouse polls.
Curry Capital organiser Peter Grove described Bradford as “Curry Central”. He added: “They eat, sleep, breathe and export curry. It’s part of the city’s make-up.”
But while Bradford celebrates, nationally the industry is facing a “curry crisis”, due largely to changes in legislation making it more difficult to employ qualified chefs from the Indian subcontinent.
Shane Lake, founder of the online restaurant directory hungryhouse.co.uk, says the plus side is that, in Bradford, restaurants are increasingly recruiting chefs through home-grown apprenticeship schemes.
“Imagine heading to Manchester’s Curry Mile, London’s Brick Lane or your local curry house and seeing boarded-up windows and empty streets. Imagine finding that the aroma of turmeric and coriander has vanished, along with a £3.5 billion industry.
“Britain’s curry crisis is very real, and Bradford, Curry Capital of Britain for two consecutive years, is doing something about it.”
At the International Food Academy at Bradford College, students are learning skills that many second and third-generation Asian immigrants are leaving behind. The college runs specialised courses in Asian cooking, with the aim of producing more Indian chefs. Its training was the subject of a recent report on the BBC1’s The One Show.
Students from Bradford College’s chef school demonstrated their skills at this summer’s World Curry Festival.
“We’re keen to encourage British-born chefs,” says Colin Burt, head chef at the International Food Academy. “Bradford is a city that has lost its textile industry and has higher-than-average unemployment figures. Unemployed learners can study here without affecting their benefits. Local restaurants recruit these learners directly from the course and 90 per cent of them are now working.
“Bradford College is proud to respond to the needs of the local community. This not only means providing training to youngsters and those seeking a career change, but also providing much-needed follow-through job placement in a country where, according to a recent study by Higher Education Careers Service Unit, about one in 12 students are without work six months after graduation.”
The four restaurants chosen by the public to represent Bradford in its Curry Capital bid were Shimla Spice, Aagrah Shipley, Zouk and Akbar’s.
The businesses are looking to Bradford College for new talent and to train local young chefs in their kitchens.
“I have been involved in the apprenticeship scheme, giving young people a chance in this industry at this very difficult time,” says Shabir Hussain from Akbar’s, who trained as a chef at Bradford College in the 1980s. He says back then he was “the only Asian guy in the whole of the 300 or 400 catering students.”
According to hungryhouse’s home delivery records, Bradfordians have ordered more pizza deliveries this year than curry, but with the “curry college” raising the bar for home-grown skills, the city looks to be on track for next year’s Curry Capital campaign.