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UK Curry Awards

Britain�s curry kings and queens were crowned in magnificent style on 21 October as the Lloyds TSB Cardnet-sponsored 2007 British Curry Awards reached their spectacular climax. More than 3,000 restaurants had started out as award hopefuls, having been put forward by a staggering 22,000 public nominations.

An initial judging process produced a list of 100 finalists. And by the time awards compere Chris Tarrant stepped on stage last night in the sumptuous surroundings of the Great Room at London�s Grosvenor House Hotel, they had been whittled down to the award winners � one for each of ten regions throughout the UK.

They were:

Scotland / Northern Ireland: Britannia Spice, Edinburgh
North East: The Valley, Corbridge, Northumberland
North West: Indian Ocean, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire
East Midlands: Mem Saab, Northampton
West Midlands: Lasan, Birmingham
Wales: Bengal Dynasty, Shotton, Flintshire
South East: Aziz, Oxford
South West: Rajpoot, Bath
London Central & City: La Porte des Indes, W1
London Suburbs: Brilliant Restaurant, Southall

A special award as Personality of the Year also went to Cyrus Todiwala MBE, owner of London�s Caf� Spice Namaste and one of Britain's most successful and widely admired Indian chefs.

Birmingham restaurant Asha�s picked up the newly-introduced award as Newcomer of the Year for establishments that have been open for less than three years, and a special prize for Outstanding Customer Service voted for by Lloyds TSB Cardnet staff throughout the country went to Roti Restaurant in Edinburgh

Once again, the glitz and the glamour of the awards ceremony did full justice to an industry that now pours �3.2 billion a year into the UK economy.

This fact was not lost on Tory party leader David Cameron who surprised the 1,100-strong audience of restaurateurs, diplomats, politicians and celebrity guests by contributing a special video message for the occasion.

He said: �The tremendous contribution that the British spice industry makes to our country is clear for all to see � the 100,000 people it employs, the billions it contributes to our economy and then there�s the sheer enjoyment which the currently 10,000 curry restaurants provide.

�Whether you like a bhoona or a dopiaza, or whether you like a balti or whether, like some people, you look at the menu and you just panic and have the chicken tikka massala, we all have got our favourite curry and our favourite restaurant.

�But I know there are real challenges ahead for the future, especially in recruiting skilled staff. This is one reason why it�s good to celebrate the industry as a whole and, in particular, excellence within it. Celebrating success helps to inspire others, too.�

Awards founder and organiser Enam Ali, owner of Le Raj restaurant in Epsom and publisher of Spice Business magazine, had earlier spoken of some of the problems the industry is currently facing, particularly in relation to the difficulty in finding enough skilled chefs.

He said: �In a nutshell, the Government has said that we must now recruit our staff from within the EU countries. Providing they can pass an English language exam, they are able to work in any kitchen. While that may lead to some interesting philosophical discussions � in English, of course � between our European trainees and their kitchen colleagues, the curry is likely to be very disappointing!

�As Asians, we grow up with the spices that are so much a part of our daily lives. We naturally understand the ingredients and the cuisine. However, the majority of skilled chefs who may be willing to come to the UK to run our kitchens don�t have the sort of formal education that would enable them to pass an English language exam. So although they could almost do the job blindfolded, they don�t qualify. Instead we�re expected to make do with Europeans whose only acquaintance with spice has been via the music of Posh, Scary, Sporty and the two Mels!

�Talented chefs are highly regarded and recognised here in Britain. People like Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White, Raymond Blanc, Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal and so on are household names. It has taken us 50 years to bring this industry to where it is today. We couldn�t have done that without ourselves recognising the importance of our chefs. Yet we are now being forced into a position of employing people who don�t have the necessary knowledge and skills to secure our future.

�Polish, Bulgarian and Romanian front of house staff may be able to converse with our English customers � but in the kitchen the only language that is important is the language of food. Believe me, if the Europeans want to come over here and take our jobs, I don�t mind�as long as they can make a good curry!�

Host for the evening, Chris Tarrant, recalled his own difficulties from earlier this year when he was arrested after a minor incident in a curry restaurant.

He said: �I brought a new kind of fame this summer to Indian restaurants in the Nottingham area when I jokingly lobbed a spoon at a rather persistent fellow diner. Four policemen in flak jackets arrived to arrest me! It made the headlines of every national newspaper, ITN and Sky News.

�Nottingham is a nice city, it has great Indian restaurants, but it also has a big crime problem. It now officially has the biggest number of gun crimes of any city in Europe. It did seem to me at the time that surely there was something
more pressing that the police's armed response team should be doing.

�It was mercifully all cleared up for the nonsense that it was. But still, officially, the statistics for Nottingham read for the year 2007: 312 gun crimes�and one spoon attack!�

Glamorous and spectacular entertainment both before and after the awards presentations was provided by Honey Kalaria and the Diva Dancers and illusionist Shahid Malik.

All in all, then, another spectacular success for the British Curry Awards that, after just three years, is now firmly established as the pre-eminent awards scheme in the curry calendar � the one everyone in the industry wants to win.

As Aziz Ur Rahman, owner of Aziz in Oxford, said after being named as the best restaurant in the South East: �I have been fortunate enough to win a number of awards over the years, but this is without a doubt the best.�

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