Sarah Ali Choudhury is a big name in England when it comes to the food and catering business. She is also listed by Forbes in the top 100 female entrepreneurs in the UK and as a leader for Asian women in catering.
Recently, she partnered with celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor to promote his brand WonderChef in the UK. Last week, Choudhury was in Mumbai when we caught up with her. “I have just come back after meeting Sanjeev Kapoor. My colleagues, who run a production company, are also here with me. We have a few exciting projects lined up. We are just making the right connections and meeting the right people,” she says.
The Indian origin chef, entrepreneur, food expert and teacher motivates and guides women to join the catering business. “I have been married for 20 years and by this time, women think, ‘What am I doing, cooking and cleaning?’ I wanted to do something more exciting and this worked for me and my family because I could be there for my children,” says the mother of four. Choudhury adds that she wants to inspire more women. “I want to bring a change in their lives, increase their income, and make them more independent.”
For Choudhury it all started with a programme on BBC which highlighted lesser Asian women representation in the food industry in England. “The reason I wanted to come to India is to see how far the country is compared to England, and I think, it’s way ahead. Women here are far more ahead. I plan to make a documentary on how things are moving ahead in India,” she says.
Choudhury, who is popularly called The Curry Queen, says that not few but a large number of women work in the food industry in India. “If you look at in real terms, in the UK, only one out of five chefs are women; the number of Asians is even less. In comparison, there are a lot of women working in the food industry in India,” she says.
Talking about women of Asian origin working in food business in England, she says, “A lot of people, who have Indian restaurants in England, started off two generations before. Many of them had come from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. They prepared the food apt for the western palette. The women came to England with what they remembered and they continued cooking in the same fashion.”
Choudhury, who has been involved in the catering sector for two years and has been working in the restaurant business since she was 15, believes that Indian women in the cooking business in England are not given due recognition.
She enjoyed her India trip although she found it a little surprising to not see many Indian women donning the six yard. “I have been here for a few days and I have hardly found any woman wearing a saree. What a culture change. I am a saree lover and I was expecting to see different types of sarees, but surprisingly I haven’t seen,” she says.
Choudhary says that different cultural influences have inspired her style of cooking. Her father is from Assam, mother from Guyana and husband from Bangladesh. “So, I am the real mix (laughs). My mother is from West Indies but with an Indian background. My mom’s style of cooking is Caribbean-Indian. The Goat Curry that she makes has incredible flavours. The Crab Curry, which is made with a lot of garlic and spices with a touch of coconut milk, is very similar to South Indian cooking,” says Choudhary, adding that she loves these variations. “They inspire me to cook and create new flavours. I like teaching what people love but in a much more easier way. It inspires me too to come up with good flavours in less time because everyone is so busy nowadays,” she adds.
Ask her why Asian curries taste different in India and abroad and she says, “Most of the spices are imported from Indian big wholesalers and stored in dark spaces abroad. But spices in India are stored in jute bags so that they can breathe and retain the flavours.”
Her children love Italian food but her favourite is Chinese. “I am staying at this hotel here and I tried their Indo-Chinese, it’s absolutely delicious.” She takes pride when she says that it’s her two sons, who mostly help her in the kitchen, especially the youngest. “I always keep telling them, when you guys get married, you should do the same. This is not about feminism but most Asian women do not let their sons do anything; I don’t want to do the same. They should be able to do everything on their own,” she says adding that her young daughter is into baking and the eldest is into cooking.