There’s a lot of debate about why there aren’t enough women in the food industry – but in fact, Indian women have been actively involved for decades.
One of London’s first modern Indian restaurants, Chutney Mary, was set up in 1990 by two sisters, Namita and Camellia Panjabi – and became the talk of the town. They went on to open other highly acclaimed restaurants; and were the original spice girls.
Indian women are there in family-owned restaurants, quietly cooking in the kitchens. They’re there making artisanal products off-site for the restaurants to sell. They’re there overseeing the menus or being the financial brains behind the scenes while their husbands are busy cooking up a storm on TV or signing yet another book deal.
They’re there even when they’re invisible: as an inspiration to male chefs.
So, as far as the Indian dining scene is concerned, the question isn’t why there aren’t enough women – but why aren’t we talking about them more?
Here, we aim to redress the balance by telling you about five amazing Indian women who are currently lighting up the capital’s food scene.
Being a chef is in Dipna Anand’s DNA.
Her grandfather Bishen Dass Anand founded the renowned Brilliant restaurant, hotel and nightclub in Kenya in the 1950s; and her father Gulu Anand carried the brand over to the UK by opening the iconic Brilliant restaurant in Southall in 1975.
While continuing to co-own Brilliant, she has just opened Dip In Brilliant, her first solo venture in Chelsea. It specialises in traditional yet contemporary Punjabi thalis, featuring original family recipes dating back 65 years; plus her own specialities, like pan-fried sea bass.
She says: ‘I wanted to open a casual-trendy Punjabi cafe… where guests can dip in and enjoy enticing, hearty Indian cuisine, full of flavour yet balanced in level of spice.’
A dynamic personality with an air of business-like efficiency, Dipna also teaches cookery classes, is a catering lecturer, has cooking videos across social media channels, and stars in a TV show called Dip In Kitchen on B4U Music channel.
She’s written Beyond Brilliant the cookbook and is working on creating her own range of ready meals.
Glamorous, stylish fashion journalist turned restaurateur, chef and cookery writer, Ravinder Bhogal first came to prominence when she was named by Gordon Ramsay as his ‘new Fanny Craddock’ on Channel 4’s The F Word.
She went on to present more TV programmes, write an award-winning cookbook Cook In Boots, and host a series of much-loved supperclubs.
Ravinder opened Jikoni in Marylebone in 2016 to rave reviews.
On a dining scene dominated by macho menus and gentlemen’s club decor, her restaurant truly stands out for its unique look and feel. Dishes like scrag-end pie with lamb neck, black cardamom and spiced mashed potato reflect her Kenyan North Indian British background.
She says: ‘Jikoni is simply an extension of my home and my home kitchen, so both the design and the food reflect this.
‘The space is also a love letter to the warmth of my childhood home in Kenya, and the maternal kitchens where I first learnt to cook. You will find lots of beautiful textiles and fabrics… many of which are made by women and women’s cooperatives.’
Buzzing with energy and positivity, Asma Khan has rightly been described as a ‘force of nature’ – once you meet her, you’ll never forget her.
She always has time for chai and chatter. She made her name by hosting massively popular supperclubs and pop-ups for several years, before opening her restaurant, Darjeeling Express in Carnaby last year.
Asma has unique royal Mughal ancestry, and was brought up in a palace in India, before moving to the UK and completing a PhD in British constitutional law.
She insists there aren’t enough Indian women in the food industry, and says: ‘Change will have to happen from top down… and the onus is on women in positions of power to hire more women and encourage greater female participation.’
She employs an all-female team of home cooks, who create dishes like slow-cooked goat curry, and wild Hunza apricots with cream: a mix of forgotten royal dishes from Hyderabad, Calcutta street food, and Bengali classics that reflects Asma’s background.
Some of these recipes will be her first cookbook, out later this year.
The restaurant supports Second Daughters, a charity that celebrates the birth of the second daughter, often stigmatised in favour of boys in many parts of India. On Sundays, it hosts supperclubs by different UK-based female cooks.
Chef Shilpa Dandekar opened Pure Indian Cooking in Fulham in 2015 with her husband Faheem Vanoo.
She trained at the Taj hotel group in India, before moving to the UK and cooking in various British pubs. She has also worked as a sous chef in Quilon, and was Raymond Blanc’s choice of head chef at London’s first Brasserie Blanc.
Committed to using only very fresh, seasonal ingredients, Shilpa combines British produce with Indian spices to create dishes like chicken with cashew nuts, fresh mint and black peppercorns.
She says: ‘My boldness in marrying various ingredients with spices, together with a blend of traditional and modern dishes on the menu, has given Pure Indian Cooking its uniqueness.’
No wonder it has a huge local following.
Indian-born, Edinburgh-raised Scottish-Punjabi chef, entrepreneur and consultant Angela Malik’s work is not easy to categorise.
Ambitious and charismatic, she trained at Leith’s School Of Food And Wine (where she now teaches Indian cookery classes), and has worked at Bibendum, Vong, and with chef Tom Kime.
She ran her own cookery school and owned Modern Indian delis in west London; still occasionally runs supperclubs, and regularly appears on TV and radio. However, she’s recently moved on to the next phase of her career.
She’s the director of Gather & Gather, a large, prestigious workplace contract catering company. Among her many tasks, she looks at how micro-trends can enhance the dining experience; and has also taught chefs to cook simple, everyday Punjabi dishes to offer as lunch options.
Additionally, Angela is a member of the London Food Board, where they discuss what Londoners will be eating in a generation’s time and liaise with mayor Sadiq Khan.
She says: ‘I’m now more than a chef. I’ve moved into innovation consultancy, and I’m determined to find solutions to societal food challenges like food poverty, obesity and older people’s diets using technology, entrepreneurs, start-ups, corporate muscle and communities, in sustainable, environmentally friendly ways.
‘We want to uphold London as an example of a smart city.’
And it’s a topic she’s in demand at international conferences to speak about.
Then she adds with a mixture of hesitation and pure sass: ‘There are no visionaries like Elon Musk in the food world. I would like to be one.’