This annual competition, founded by Edinburgh entrepreneur Tommy Miah to promote innovation and quality in Indian cuisine, was a success from its launch at the House of Commons in 1991 by Edwina Currie. She had just resigned as a government minister amid outcry over her assertion that salmonella was rife in British-produced eggs.
The challenge of devising an ideal four-dish meal – two meat, fish or poultry, and two vegetarian — attracted an immediate, expert, worldwide entry. No doubt the prospect of an expenses-paid trip to Edinburgh for eight finalists played a part but the number of hopeful entrants soared from 400 in 1991 to a maximum around 5,000.
The competition is unique, with free entry open worldwide to men and women, amateur or professional, regardless of nationality or ethnic origin.
The oldest finalist so far was a 69-year-old Australian businessman, the youngest a 20-year-old Chinese woman from Malaysia. Others came from America, Bangladesh, India, France, Germany and UK – including a Japanese housewife living in Scotland
Finalists, selected on the basis of their entered menu, have 2 1/2 hours in a training college kitchen to cook and present their meal to table.
Cooking is closely monitored by a distinguished panel of judges, who taste all the dishes before awarding the title and £1,000 Lord Fraser Prize. There is an additional £250 prize — the Bertha Forrester Prize for the best dish.
The judging panel includes food trade experts, writers, and consumers such as Sir Tom Farmer, founder of Kwik Fit and the Rt Hon Alex Salmond MP.
The first winner in 1991, Enam Ali runs the successful British Curry Awards and editor of Spice Magazine, The 2005 winner, Wasim Aslam of Yorkshire’s Aagrah restaurant group, was emulating his father, who won 10 years earlier. Another winner, when the final was held in an Edinburgh College, was Kamil Kausik — who liked the Scottish capital so much that he returned there to a permanent job a year later. Most entrants and winners have been professional restaurant chefs but the list includes an English cook who prepared in-flight meals for first-class airline passengers. The Roll of Honour also includes the head chef of the UK’s oldest Indian restaurant, two housewives, a college lecturer — and a Bangladeshi man whose deportation was delayed to allow him to compete.
For restaurant chefs even getting to the final leads to a massive increase in turnover and nearly all winners found it win a stepping stone to bigger and better business.