Chef of the Week: Dipna Anand, Co-owner of Brilliant Restaurant in Southall & Chef-lecturer at The University of West London
How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I grew up in and around the restaurant business so remember going to the restaurant with my mum and dad from a young age of around seven or eight. At that time I used to just try and make myself useful by helping set tables, stack drink bottles and generally just try to copy what mum and dad were doing. In school I used to absolutely love Food Technology and it was the only subject I was really academically successful in. I pursued it for GCSE and A-Levels, during which time I also used to go to the restaurant on the weekends and help dad. I officially started working at the restaurant when I was about 16 years old (part-time around my studies) and then when I went to university I continued to work at the restaurant through this. I am now 34.
Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I guess growing up in a family of chefs and restaurateurs helped. I have been surrounded by food right from birth and the passion was built from very early on. I would watch mum when I was a child, she would cook in the kitchen at home and I would pay attention to what she was doing and always ask lots of questions (I still learn from her today). When I used to go to the restaurant I would take interest in what my dad was cooking in the kitchen and ask hi and the chefs to show me how to make my favourite butter chicken which I would then sit and eat afterwards. So watching mum and dad in the kitchens, grasping skills from chefs in our restaurant kitchen, asking lots of questions is the way I learnt all my cooking knowledge and skills. One thing I also love doing is talking to customers and I used to do this at the restaurant from a very young age, that’s another thing that inspired me to learn more about the hospitality, catering and food world.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I love the fact that each day for me is different. One day I could be doing a pop-up in the city, the next I could be conducting a cookery course at my cookery school, the next I could be doing a catering event at the O2, one day I could be working on recipes for my books, another day I could be filming, another doing a demo, the list is endless. It’s the challenge of doing all of this and fitting so much into my one day that inspires me to carry on and work even harder. I enjoy the challenge.
Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without
Garam masala, dried fenugreek leaves, coarse black pepper.
Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
My clay oven.
What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
People like a little twist on things. I make masala fries at both my restaurants and customers are crazy about these as they are fries like they have never had before. Vegetarian foods are also on the rise – even though people may not be vegetarian they are ordering more vegetarian items as sides.
People are also ordering healthier options – chicken tikka or lamb wraps as opposed to a full on masala chicken with rice.
What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
A chef who says they know everything is for me the biggest let down because no matter how much you cook there is never enough you can know about food. As a chef, it’s important that you stay humble all the time, this is what has got me to where I am today.
What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Diwali and Christmas are two occasions I really look forward to. Diwali is all about sharing sweets and food in my culture and I have the biggest sweet tooth ever so it’s a great excuse to indulge and spend time with the family of course. Christmas is when I cook for my family and it’s a traditional roast turkey (nothing Indian) so gives me a chance to cook non-Indian food and my family absolutely love it. I make a mandarin cheesecake for dessert that the family are absolutely crazy about.
Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I won my first national award from The British Nutrition Foundation for best A-Level project in the country. It focused on low-fat Indian dishes and the recipe I came up with as the final dish was soya-stuffed masala mushrooms. This is one that’s always been close to my heart for this reason and I am very proud of it. It was the dish that enabled my career to kick start to soon and gained me immense publicity.
How do you come up with new dishes?
I love to experiment and I also like to tweak recipes to my style, for example if mum makes something that I love I like to put a ‘Dip-twist’ on it and make it even more exciting and trendy. One of my favourite things to eat are tacos and I make my own version with a Punjabi twist which uses lamb mince and paneer and is spicy and really delicious. To me experimenting and cooking your heart out is the best way to come up with brilliant recipes for my books, my TV shows and my new restaurants.
Who was your greatest influence?
My dad has been my mentor from a very young age. Growing up, I always wanted to be like him. His energy, his drive and passion for his work is unlike anyone I have ever met.
Tell us three chefs you admire
Michel Roux, Gordon Ramsay and Raymond Blanc.
What is your favourite cookbook?
Mine! It’s called Beyond Brilliant!
Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Bryn Williams and Emily Roux.
What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Temple and Sons, Jason Atherton’s new place in the City of London. It was amazing.