Kaushy Patel has helped transform Indian cooking and with her latest cookery book just out, she talks to Amanda Wragg.
Kaushy Patel sits down with a cup of fragrant masala chai, her customary smile beaming across her friendly face. She’s every right to feel pleased; the family restaurant, Prashad, is going from strength to strength and her second cookery book, Prashad at Home, has just hit the shelves.
It sits on the table between us and as she leafs through it, Kaushy reflects on “the journey” she’s been on since she came to England in 1966, aged 15 with her husband Mohan, then just 16. Twenty two years ago Kaushy opened the first Gujarat takeaway in Bradford, making and selling thousands of “night-time snacks” a week in her tiny kitchen; her eldest son Bobby persuaded her that she should make the fragrant, subtly spiced vegetarian food accessible to more people, and Prashad (meaning “blessed food”) came into being in 2002.
The first restaurant in Bradford was runner-up in 2010 in Channel 4’s Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurant; at 25 covers it was tiny and the Patels didn’t think they had a chance. “It was a fantastic experience and we came second so it was a big achievement for us. But honestly I would say that the best thing is that I’ve been able to work closely with my family – all my children have been involved in the business at some point. To spend time with your family – working or not – is the most important thing, and the love we have for cooking is passed on through the food to our customers. The thing I like best in the world is to be feeding you!” says Kaushy.
So where did it all begin? “I was around 10 when I became interested in food – I lived with my grandma in Pardi, a little village in Gujarat. She was a farmer and grew all her own food. We used to make lunch and dinner before I went to school – we would get up really early! I would say to her ‘can I try this?’ and she would let me make chapatis. By the time I was 11 I was making two meals every day for five people, my grandma, my sister and my two aunties.”
Kaushy’s first book, Indian Vegetarian Cooking, was published in 2012 and features many of the dishes served in the restaurant. “I’m proud to see the same dishes that have passed down the generations of my family being enjoyed by our diners. I just wonder what Grandma would make of it, if she could see one of her aubergine recipes on our menu!”
Prashad at Home has more of a cooking-for-family slant, featuring recipes that Kaushy has made for her brood down the years. The book is illustrated with wonderfully colourful photographs of Kaushy and Mohan in India and is bursting with mouth-watering recipes; how did she choose the dishes to include?
“I sat for hours with my daughter-in-law Minal [who is now head chef in the Prashad kitchen in Drighlington] making lists of the hundreds of recipes I’ve had stored in my head for years, then we made a short list. Likewise with my sister Prabha in India, we had a great time remembering the dishes our grandma made for us when we were kids, like methi bhaja nataka [curried fenugreek & potatoes].
“One of the chapters I enjoyed writing the most is Indian Fusion and includes a number of dishes cooked for my kids as they were growing up. Bobby and his brother and sister wanted to eat the same food their friends were eating – macaroni cheese, lasagna and pizzas – and I would make them, but with an Indian twist. So macaroni cheese had a chilli kick to it, and vegetable lasagna a pinch of turmeric and a handful of fresh coriander. Bobby’s favourite was beans on toast – which I made with a tin of Heinz beans but added carom seeds and garlic! My daughter Hina who lives in Chicago loved my take on cheese on toast more than anything.”
Other chapters include Feasts, Festivities and Sweets and Speedy Suppers. “People seem to have less time to cook from scratch, but I think being busy means it’s more important to eat well, and make time for the family,” says Kaushy.
The Light Lunches and Leftovers chapter is particularly useful; it describes how to make a nutritious, filling lunch from last night’s curry. Flavours are often deeper the next day as the spices have had chance to infuse, and how much more satisfying to eat a homemade dhal for lunch than a soggy shop-bought sandwich? There a useful chapter titled “All the extras” which includes different rice dishes, breads, Sticky Chilli Chips and Imli chutney; Kaushy used to climb the tamarind tree in her grandmother’s back garden to pick the Imli and look at the view.
There’s very little waste in Indian cuisine too, Kaushy assures me. “Other dishes we had to include are Vagarela Tortillas [spicy yoghurty tortillas] which uses leftover chapati – our grandma used to give it to us for breakfast – and Renghan Lothu [spicy fried aubergines] which we used to eat snack on. When I cook it for my family, it rarely gets as far as the table – they pounce on it before it leaves the stove!”
Despite the number of years Kaushy has been putting plates of food in front of her family and customers, she doesn’t appear to have lost any of her passion for cooking. “The great thing about Gujarati food is that the ingredients are so colourful and flavoursome that you don’t need to do a lot to create something really delicious. Whilst it’s sometimes very rewarding to make a special feast, more often than not it’s just as satisfying to produce something quick and easy. And I’m not fussy about cheating either – by all means use Ketchup, tins of this and that and even the toastie-maker!”
With Minal in the restaurant kitchen and Bobby front of house and operations director (and his younger brother Mayur running the phenomenally successful street curry and craft beer emporium Bundobust in central Leeds) is Kaushy taking a back seat?
“No chance!” she laughs. “I’m kept very busy with my books and my lovely granddaughter Maitri who is just three years old and already starting to cook. The other day she said to me ‘let’s make chapatis, Grandma’ so I gave her a ball of dough and she made some, saying ‘I’m making some snacks! We brought them to the restaurant for her mum to eat – so we’ve gone full circle – from me and my sister making them at our grandma’s side, and now Maitri making them with me.”
Prashad at Home: Everyday Indian Cooking from our Vegetarian Kitchen by Kaushy Patel is published by Saltyard Books priced £25.