Edinburgh businessman Tommy Miah started the annual "International Indian Chef of the Year" competition in 1991 to promote innovation and quality in Indian cooking. The first competition was launched by Edwina Currie and finalists were chosen from 400 entrants for a three-hour cook-out at Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh, in February 1992. Entries have risen steadily each year, reaching around 5,000 in 2001-2. Entry is free and the worldwide competition is the only one open equally to all amateur or professional cooks over the age of 18, without regard to nationality, ethnic origin, or sex.
Contestants submit their ideal, four-course menu -- two meat or fish dishes and two vegetarian -- for four people. Entries are scrutinised by a panel of experts, who choose eight for the final in Edinburgh.
The finalists have three hours to prepare, cook, and present their meal on table. A distinguished panel of judges, chaired by Richard Shepherd of Langan's Brasserie, monitors the cooking, and samples the dishes to select the £1,000 prize winner and two runners-up.
The first title in 1992 was won by Surrey restaurateur Eenam Ali. For doctor's wife Lali Nayer from the Midlands, her 1993 success led to a series of Indian cookery programmes on satellite TV. Housewife Nirmala Reddy, from Curriehill in Edinburgh, came second in 1993 and won in 1995, with a new menu and cooking style. Portuguese/Bangladeshi Eugene Gomez was under threat of deportation, but proceedings were stayed to allow him to compete and he took the 1994 title. Mohammed Aslam, owner of the Leeds-based Aagrah restaurant group gave his prize to charity when he won in 1996. Henry Lobo, head chef of Britain's oldest Indian restaurant, Veeraswamy in London, won in 1997.
The 1998 winner was an English chef who prepares In-flight meals for first class-class airline passengers. The executive chef of a firm producing ready meals for retail sale won in 1999. His successor was head ehef of an old-established family restaurant in London.
Over the years, finalists have included a French housewife, a German secretary, a 69-year old Australian businessman, a Bombay restaurateur, a chef working on a North Sea oil rig, a Royal Navy officers mess cook, a 20-year-old Chinese woman from Malaysia (the youngest finalist so far), and a Thai woman.
© The Indian Chef Of The Year 2002