Sara Niven talks with Kaushy and Bobby Patel about how a passion for preparing good food has reaped its rewards for the family-run Indian vegetarian restaurant, Prashad.
A family-run Indian vegetarian restaurant, Prashad is known for delivering real culinary excellence, for which they were winners in Gordon Ramsay's Best Restaurant series in 2010. Sara Niven talks with Kaushy and Bobby Patel about how a passion for preparing good food has reaped its rewards.
Prashad' means 'blessed food' and for the Patel family, food has truly been a blessing. From cooking for her family in northern India at the tender age of seven, to winning coveted awards and appearing on national TV, Kaushy Patel and her family have shown just what sheer hard work, culinary talent and a genuine passion for feeding others can achieve.
In 2010 their family-run Indian vegetarian restaurant beat off competition from more than 12,000 eateries for a place in the semi-finals of Gordon Ramsay's Best Restaurant series. They then went on to triumph over a top London restaurant to win the Indian category outright. The following year Prashad become the first restaurant in Bradford to be awarded a coveted AA rosette in recognition of the standard of cooking and overall dining experience.
Two years on, with a book out and their newly relocated larger restaurant just about to open, the family are clearly not taking life any easier. In fact, their passion appears stronger than ever.
'We feel we've got on the runway but haven't taken off yet – there's no way we've achieved all we can or even a fraction of that,' says Bobby Patel, Kaushy's oldest son who works front of house and is overseeing the move to the new restaurant, which will also be situated in Bradford.
'We never lose the satisfaction of seeing a non-vegetarian walk in with a look of dread on their face when they have obviously only agreed to eat here under duress. By the time they walk out, their face has lit up and they leave saying "that was amazing". It is one of the many things that spur us on.'
'A meal is not just something you chew and fill your belly with, it is about so much more : culture, environment and passion'
A love of feeding others
Recently Bobby has been busy combining juggling becoming a father for the first time (his daughter Maitri was born last April) with planning the new restaurant and working on the book with his mother. You'd expect he'd sound tired, but in fact his enthusiasm is infectious as he talks excitedly about recruiting more staff and his immense satisfaction at completing the book.
'The hardest thing was getting the methods for each dish right,' he explains.
'I sat down with Mum, got her to close her eyes and talk me through the dishes just as she would make them. We wanted it to be written in the natural way you would prepare each dish and that proved to be quite a challenge, as was cutting down the quantities. Even when cooking at home, Mum tends to cook large amounts so that anyone who may be calling in can be offered food or it can be taken round to neighbours. We were so relieved when the manuscript was done, only for it to be sent back a few days later covered in questions that took another six weeks to work through!'
The result is well worth their efforts, however. The book opens with Kaushy explaining how her love of feeding others developed to become the successful business Prashad is today.
'I grew up watching my grandmother, Prem Ma, rise at dawn to start the "big cook" – preparing enormous pots of food for the hundreds of workers on the family farm. She was thrilled by my desire to learn and carefully taught me,' explains Kaushy, who moved to the North of England in 1966 and married Mohan, the man she describes as her soulmate. 'The main thing I took from her was the importance of using the best, freshest ingredients and an understanding that preparing wonderful food is an expression of real love.'
She has passed this belief on to her family who all view food as far more than just fuel.
'A meal is not just something you chew and fill your belly with, it is about so much more: culture, environment and passion, to name just a few,' adds Bobby. 'We are firm believers in the importance of food being prepared and eaten in a non-stressful way to ensure it is fully enjoyed, for instance.'
You'd imagine a visit from Gordon Ramsay would probably be one of the most stressful experiences going, but the family managed to take it in their stride.
'We were excited and worried at the same time,' admits Kaushy. 'Would he think we were good enough or should we be doing things differently?'
It was her husband Mohan, who reassured everyone including their youngest son Mayur and Minal, Bobby's wife and their head chef. After all, Gordon was coming because he had heard great things about the food so it was agreed it would simply be business as usual, TV cameras and all.
At that point the restaurant had been open a decade, set up in 1992 in a converted launderette. It was initially purely a deli, selling traditional Indian snacks and sweets, but the enthusiastic response led to a few chairs and tables being added. Over the years, it grew to be a 45-seater restaurant offering traditional Gujarati and Punjabi vegetarian cuisine. The new 75-seater restaurant is something that has taken two years to come to fruition.
Everything has been carefully considered, including the design and decor which Mayur has played a big part in. The family wanted the surroundings to reflect the food in terms of authenticity, so even the doors have been meticulously sourced to give the feel of an old Rajasthan palace.
'One of the pieces of advice Gordon Ramsay gave us was not to expand too quickly; to take the time to see how things were after the excitement of the TV win had died down,' Bobby explains. 'He advised us to look at every aspect of our operation to make sure we were doing the very best we could in each area, which is what we have done. It is vital to us that what Prashad is all about is not diluted, but opening a larger restaurant definitely feels like the right step at this time.'
There is no doubt that the Patel family have come a long way since their deli days, but their attitude and philosophy remains the same. This is a family who put their all into ensuring customers leave sharing their love of authentic Indian vegetarian cuisine. Whether those customers had expected to or not!
• For more information on the restaurant, visit www.prashad.co.uk.