Indian Chefs Offer Food for Thought

‘India has made me, and now is the time to give something back,’ said Atul Kochhar, the spice-savvy, Michelin-starred Chef of London’s Benares and Hampshire’s boutique vineyard restaurant, Vatika. The roomful of critics, chefs and editors had been clapped to order to hear about Food for Thought, an initiative born by charity Find Your Feet to help stave off hunger and malnutrition in rural Northern India. 6,000 families are expected to benefit.

To fund it, a group of the capital’s best-known Indian restaurants will be levying a voluntary £1 donation on diners’ bills this month and next. Whilst the figure might seem diminutive  (apparently 350million Indians live on significantly less than that every day) it is nonetheless a bright candle in a dark room.

Indeed, through previous campaigns, the charity has already helped 26,000 people by providing ‘lasting solutions’. These include: access to clean water, sustainable farming, literacy, advice on starting small businesses, the introduction of bank accounts and, perhaps most significantly of all, female empowerment.

Brave objectives. But it was the personal stories that widely opened my eyes to the life-changing work achieved so far. How someone learnt to sign their name, for example, or, more shockingly, the deeply impoverished lady ‘overwhelmed with joy’ because ‘she no longer had to sell her son into slavery.’ Whilst breakthrough economic reforms started in the early ‘90s have transformed India into being one of the fastest growing economies, these vignettes highlighted a dark conundrum. As the country emerges a richer trader, ironically its poorest meet with an ever meeker future.

That reality felt incongruous amidst the lavish setting of The Cadogan Hotel’s restaurant, Langtry’s, once part of the home of supreme strumpet and Jersey lily, Lily Langtry. It has recently become as famous for its weekend unlimited Champagne lunch as for the fact that Oscar Wilde was arrested in Room 118.

But luxury for most is very tempting and therefore a good vehicle for benevolence. The trays of moist monkfish and chutney licked foie gras canapés, prepared by the participating restaurants, would tempt me into the venues. Indeed, partly because I was known by the matire’d as a regular, and partly because of the ingenious trick learnt from Bloomberg’s critic, Richard Vines of standing, caryatid-like by the kitchen door, I secured a good quantity of these tasty morsels.

As a minimum, three times a week, semi-professional diner, dislocated from the concept of a real daily struggle, I see nothing but benefits coming from Find Your Feet’s elegant idea.

Such an easy way to give is worth making a meal over…

The participating London restaurants are: Benares, Cinnamon Club and Cinnamon Kitchen, Dockmaster’s House, La Porte des Indes, Quilon, Mela and Mint Leaf.

To find out more visit: Find Your Feet.

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