Walking in amidst the hustle and bustle of the last few moments before the doors open and the lunchtime rush begins, I was given the tour of the re-branded Vegetarian Restaurant and it’s amazing displays of colourful, enticing, entirely meat-free dishes.
Flitting amongst the array of mouth-watering curries, rice dishes and chutneys I found Dipna Anand confidently at the helm of the buzzing crew of chefs, making the final touches and ensuring every dish looked as good as it tasted.
In celebration of National Vegetarian Week the team here have fully embraced the plant-based philosophy and completely dedicated the restaurant to purely vegetarian dishes for the entire week.
Me: So how’s it gone this morning? I see you’ve got your Dad helping out?
D: Yeah it’s gone really well so far. I always bring my dad with me when I do the pop-ups for Restaurant Associates. He really enjoys it, makes a change for him from being in the restaurant and makes it much easier for me to have him here. He’s the rice expert, so he’ll be in charge of that today.
Me: Is your family a big source of inspiration for you then?
D: Definitely. It’s so inspirational to see how much energy he still has, far more than I have. I’ve always tried to be like him, his approach to leadership and his willingness to get involved and do any job that needs doing creates such a fantastic atmosphere wherever he works and is a great example for everyone around him.
My family are also a big influence on the food that I cook. The recipes in my book are all based on dishes my grandfather used to make over 60 years ago.
Me: What was your reaction when you were asked to produce an entirely vegetarian menu for the restaurant here?
D: I was really excited to do it. Today’s menu is an entirely unique offer. A lot of the recipes in my book and in my Brilliant Restaurant are vegetarian but only a few of them had been available to Restaurant Associates’ customers before today. One of the most popular dishes at Brilliant is the black lentils, I hadn’t had chance to do this dish for RA before so this was a great opportunity to try out something different on the customers here and see what they think. We usually sell out of everything when we do pop-ups so it will be interesting to see how these new dishes are received.
I always enjoy doing the pop-ups for RA. It’s a great chance to test out my recipes on a wide range of customers and see first-hand what they do and don’t want. Often we also meet customers that have been to Brilliant and so it’s lovely to have an opportunity to chat to them and hear what they think about the food.
I also personally train the Restaurant Associates chefs to cook a selection of my recipes in their own sites and so it’s great to hear from people that are eating my food regularly and consider it as good as what they eat at Brilliant.
Me: Brilliant has gone from strength to strength, you must be really proud of how successful both it and your book have been?
D: I am. We’ve had a few high profile customers that have really helped with its success. Gordon Ramsay included it in his Best Restaurant TV programme and we even had Prince Charles and Camilla visit as part of a promotion for locally sourced products. All of the dishes we create use ingredients from local suppliers so it was great to showcase these to him and have him try our food. Camilla was a bit reluctant at first but I’m proud to say that we managed to convert them both.
We’ve recently undergone a full refurbishment of the restaurant which is really exciting. It looks really good – one reviewer described it as ‘like something from Game of Thrones’. We have a large banqueting suite upstairs and a dedicated cookery school which will give us much more space to train even more chefs. Between that and my TV programme on B4U I hope to reach as many people as possible and teach them how to create real Indian food.
Me: Do you enjoy being in front of the camera?
D: I really do. I was asked towards the start of my career what I saw myself doing in 5 years’ time and my answer was that I want to be teaching the nation how to cook real Indian food. It was a bit strange to begin with doing this to a lens instead of an actual student but I soon got used to it and now I really feel like that is where I belong.
A lot of people have the misconception that Indian food is unhealthy and difficult to cook but I’m determined to spread the message that it can actually be really simple, healthy and delicious.
To create authentic Indian food you just need to know how to balance the spices correctly and the rest is easy. I’m surprised at how many people would say that chicken Tikka Masala is their favourite dish but have never actually cooked it themselves. I want to show people how, with just a few key ingredients and the right know-how, you can make it yourself cheaply and in less than half an hour. This is the aim of my next project that I’m due to start filming soon, Dip In Videos – a selection of short videos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram that people can dip in and out of to get inspiration and instructions to help them create quick, healthy, tasty Indian meals in their own home.
Dipna and the team weren’t the only ones to get fully stuck in to National Vegetarian Week. Across Restaurant Associates we have completely embraced the growing trend of flexitarian diets, with an increasing number of people choosing to eat more plant-based food and less meat. There are a number of health benefits of doing this so our chefs are always keen to explore the huge variety of exciting dishes that can be created without meat.
National Vegetarian Week was the perfect chance to showcase their skills when it comes to presenting a fantastic variety of vibrant, mouth-watering plant-based meals inspired by the latest trends and cuisines from across the globe: