TV chef brings on a new generation

24th October 2008 at 01:00
And raises money for India's rural poor too

He was the first Indian chef to win a coveted Michelin star, but this week Atul Kochhar swapped his Mayfair restaurant for a college kitchen.

The owner and chef of Benares restaurant - also well-known for his appearances on the BBC's Great British Menu - led a group of students in serving up a four-course feast to guests at a charity dinner at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College.

His brigade of student chefs and waiters were part of a new generation of Indians who have the opportunity to train in vocational subjects in Britain for the first time.

The money raised at the dinner will help the charity Find Your Feet give women in Mr Kochhar's home state of Jharkhand in eastern India the chance to set up businesses, rear livestock and support their families, as well as running projects elsewhere in India and in Malawi.

Mr Kochhar said: "I know the hardships some people face. I remember hiking in the hills as a boy and meeting tribal families who were so warm, but who suffered such poverty. I remember seeing tribal boys my own age having to scavenge for food to survive.

"Food is my passion. Yet in the area where I grew up in India, many families still don't have enough to eat for over six months a year.

"Find Your Feet has recently started working in the region where I was born - it feels like all my ambitions outside of cooking are being fulfilled now."

But the dinner - a British and Indian fusion that included a novel take on fish and chips - was also an opportunity for the college's Indian catering trainees to work with their nation's most celebrated chef.

The west London college has recruited more than 1,300 Indian postgraduate students on to courses ranging from hospitality to tourism, said Catherine Vines, its head of international operations.

A decision by the Indian Government to offer cheap student loans to people pursuing vocational courses, rather than traditional university courses such as medicine or engineering, has transformed opportunities for many Indians.

Under the arrangement, Indian students are being offered low fees, paying perhaps Pounds 5,000 for a one-year course rather than Pounds 24,000 for a three-year degree, so they are able to start earning much more quickly.

Demand for the courses was fuelled after students won jobs at prestigious London hotels. The college expects many will return to India once they have the experience to win senior jobs there.

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