UK Curry Connect (UKCC), a small campaign group that is trying to make its voice heard on behalf of the Asian catering industry to various government and industry bodies to deal with staff and skills shortages that are blighting the industry.
UKCC has a number of viable proposals that have already been presented and one of its long term proposals is that of training and bringing in more home-grown talent. The idea is to inspire individuals that there are long term prospects in this industry and progression for those with passion. The idea for competing in the recent and spectacular Culinary World Cup, in Luxembourg came from its collaboration with Central Bedfordshire College. UKCC has a partnership with the college to train students who wish to learn about international cuisine.
What better way to showcase the potential for this industry than to compete at the very pinnacle in the gastronomic world. An event where the very best attend, where future trends are set, where iconic legends rub shoulders with up and coming superstars and where UKCC can make its mark as the very first Bangladeshi led team on this very exclusive international stage.
This journey was far from straight forward, however, finances needed to be raised and suitable chefs found, as well as addressing the naysayers that said this couldn’t be done, and indeed some that went out of their way to make sure it would be difficult…and all this before they’ve even left for the competition.
Sponsors were sought, including industry heavyweights like Just Eat, Kingfisher and Cobra, but all declined. So it was left to team managers Moslek Uddin, Shah Athar and Naseem Talukdar to approach the smaller businesses and acquaintances to rally round as much as possible. They were themselves surprised by the lack of ambition or belief shown by large corporate companies towards this well-known campaign group within the industry.
During the selection process, cooking competitions were held to select potential team members as well as raise awareness within the community and amongst sponsors. UK Curry Connect continued to face apathy from the industry, even after a successful and well received Salon Culinaire.
Team members were selected all of whom realised the potential boost this could bring to their respective careers and ambitions.
Deadline day approached and Team UKCC were still way short of funds, so Moslek was forced to stay behind and try and raise funds whichever way he could manage. Shah agreed to lead the team alongside Raj Mandal from Central Bedfordshire College on the coach journey over to Luxembourg.
A 5am start from the college to try and get everything loaded on to the coach and make their way to Dover. On the way, they stopped by the Gurkha regiment to pick up a few soldiers, who happened to be culinary artists and now proud members of Team UKCC. The journey over was a team full of strangers with no idea of each others’ strengths, but they slowly got to know each other.
Upon arrival in the small town of Capellen, a few miles outside of the city of Luxembourg, the team had discovered that the cooking and storage facilities were far from adequate. There was no kitchen that the team could work from and there was certainly no adequate refrigeration to store any of the products that the team brought with them.
One of the team members, Najib Ali, winner of the Salon Culinaire, an avid coffee drinker decided to get his caffeine fix the following morning, along with a croissant in the artisan bakery/Boulanger a few yards down the road, Le Pain & La Toque. Having spoken to Natalie, the manager there, she was kind enough to allow the team to use their facilities. Then there was Patrick, the owner and he gave a guide a guided tour of his bakery and his facilities and explained how he freshly bakes everything every morning. What was more surprising was that he was happy to allow the team free rein in his kitchen. This hospitality was repaid by inviting them to join them for dinner as their kitchen was used to cook all the team meals. Both Patrick and Natalie were also very obliging, even offering to drive across the border to France to source certain ingredients for the team.
The team worked through the night within the confines of their own bedrooms to get its first entries ready for the competition, some pastry art entries and a chocolate centrepiece with a girl spraying graffiti…the latter impressing the judges and winning a bronze medal! Not being able to contain themselves, a message was sent to Moslek who was just coming out of the airport after having to chase funds to support the team. Moslek arrived feeling overwhelmed with a sense of vindication, that his belief in the team had paid off and that all his hard work would be worth it in the end. This early bronze medal galvanised the team to try and achieve more and they continued to work through most of the night, almost every night. Two members from Team UKCC even went to learn some of the artisan pastry that the bakery produced at 4am.
On the very last night, where everyone was at work helping each other and even the hotel where the team were staying cleared the restaurant area so that the team had space to work from, it was a huge effort not only from the team but also its honorary new members, Patrick and Natalie from the bakery, but also Constantin and Mika from the hotel staff. Without the support from the local bakery and even the hotel, a lot of Team UKCC’s achievements may not have been possible.
On Team UKCC’s final day at the Culinary World Cup, all entries were delivered at 5am, ready for judges inspection. The rest of the day was to wait for the results. Lots of friends and were made and, although Team UKCC were completely unknown at the beginning of this event, by the end of it there were not only other national teams supporting them but large influential organisations willing to work with them on future projects, having seen what was achieved on a shoestring budget.
Come the announcement of results. Team UKCC were presented with 3 silvers, but told to stay on stage, as the judges then announced that Team UKCC had also won a gold medal! The audience cheered and the feeling was shared amongst the team for such a momentous moment. The gold medal entry itself made entirely of salt dough, was a huge slice of fate as the subject matter was ‘plastic pollution awareness’, a project that Team UKCC also heavily support and one that intrigued not only the judges but the viewing public as well.
After leaving the medal ceremony, a lot of the emotions erupted as a lot of the senior team were in tears at the achievements of the team, where certain decisions were justified and that the journey of a small independent team from the United Kingdom made up of chefs from all over the country came and competed at the very highest level and walked away with 7 medals in total, including gold. Not only did they surprise themselves, but they surprised a lot of the established teams, as well as the doubters back in the UK.
If one were to think of a movie analogy, the film “Cool Runnings” comes to mind, perfectly summarising the trials and tribulations of a small team that no-one had any hope for but still competed anyway against all the odds and all the hurdles along the way. Although they came with low expectations, Team UKCC were certainly one of the stories and highlights that came out of this year’s Culinary World Cup.
Team UKCC, comprises a collaboration between UK Curry Connect and Central Bedfordshire College. The main purpose of the UK Curry Connect is to address the staffing and skills shortages within the Asian catering industry. The culinary world cup was intended to provide inspiration to those who may see catering as a career option and to provide ambition to those who have the desire for it.