Curry crisis heats up in Britain

Immigration curb thins chefs’ ranks

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LONDON — When it comes to curry, some like it hot, with India’s signature dish as popular in London as it is in New Delhi.

But now the heat is on the British government for creating a curry crisis because of a shortage of Asian chefs, thanks to an immigration clampdown last year.

The government capped the number of foreigners migrating to Britain and set new minimum-wage rules for non-European residents that forced the closures of some Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Thai restaurants.

“We’re facing an unprecedented crisis,” said Enam Ali, founder of the British Curry Awards.

Newspapers have published editorials of outrage, as Britons worry about the future of their favorite takeout.

Thousands of ethnic caterers from Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and Turkish communities gathered in Trafalgar Square in London to demonstrate against new immigration policies issued by the British Border and Immigration Agency which have thrown the British ethnic restaurant industry into crisis, Sunday, April 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

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Thousands of ethnic caterers from Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and Turkish communities ... more >

Eric Pickles, a Conservative parliamentarian, said Britain has some of the finest Asian food in the world, which is “part of the very fabric of our national life.”

Facing the heat, the government is trying to tackle the problem it created by setting up five “centers of excellence in Asian and Oriental cookery.” It hopes these cooking schools, scheduled to open in June, also will tackle rising youth unemployment by teaching jobless young Britons the art of making curry.

The government hopes to train young people as cooks to make up for the shortage in restaurant kitchens caused by new rules that require skilled chefs from outside the European Economic Area to be paid at least $44,000 a year. The normal curry house salary is between $28,500 and $34,000.

Recruits to the “curry colleges” will be trained in food safety and customer service before they are offered restaurant apprenticeships. Still, some think it won’t solve the problem in the short term.

“Everyone loves Indian food, but we won’t have enough highly skilled people to cope with demand,” said Rajesh Suri, chief executive of two high-end Indian restaurants in central London.

“I think lots of restaurants will close down, and creativity and the quality of food will suffer.”

Britain has about 12,000 Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants and thousands of Chinese and Thai eateries, according to the Hospitality Guild. The $5.7 billion industry employs about 100,000 people.

The cuisine from the Asian subcontinent is hugely popular, with 2.5 million people eating in restaurants serving food from that region every week.

Scottish curry?

The most popular dish is chicken tikka masala, an Anglo-Indian recipe of chicken chunks in a mildly spiced creamy tomato sauce. It has achieved near folkloric status, with arguments over its provenance pitting town against town.

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