We Grill – Anjula Devi
Anjula Devi is a chef best known for her extensive knowledge of spices and for creating delicious authentic Indian cuisine. She runs Anjula Devi Authentic Indian Food, providing Indian dinner parties and cookery classes, and regularly showcases her skills at festivals and schools. She has written two recipe books Authentic Indian Food and Spice for Life and most recently became the first female consultant and Indian chef at Manchester United.
So what has happened since we last spoke to you?
It’s been a really busy and rewarding time. I’m honoured and excited to have become an ambassador for the incredible charity Asha, who do amazing work transforming lives in the slums of Delhi in India. I’ve also been visiting catering colleges to hopefully inspire young people, and I’m going to be speaking at various events for The Institute of Hospitality. And of course, I also became the first Indian consultant chef for Manchester United.
Tell us about your role at Manchester United…
I was delighted when James Tagg, executive chef of Manchester United, chose me to join his brigade of talented chefs as a consultant Indian chef. My role is to create and develop authentic Indian recipes to serve in the hospitality areas at Manchester United, as well as training other chefs to make them. With around 5,500 guests sitting down to eat within the stadium on match days, it’s a phenomenal catering operation.
What food do you serve?
James and I plan the menu together. He brought me in for my knowledge, skills and authenticity and he knows what works for the clientele, so we make a good team! Our aim is to introduce authentic Indian cuisine from many different parts of India, so last season I kept chicken tikka masala off the menu and replaced it with dishes like okra and black lentils, ripe mango and red peppers, dal makhani, kohlrabi and chickpea curry, and tarka dal. Everything is created from scratch and we work with seasonal produce and whole spices.
What dishes are you serving for the new football season?
Indian street food, because people love the variety and the unique and bold flavours which it has to offer. We’ve also brought a touch of royalty by introducing Mughlai cuisine originally developed in the royal kitchens of the Mughal Empire. You serve a lot of vegetables in your dishes. With more people choosing to eat less meat, are your dishes perfect to cater for this trend? I cook the way that my father taught me. We ate vegetables and pulses in the week and one meat dish on Saturday. On Sunday we ate comforting bowls of delicious black lentils. Black dal is eaten in community kitchens, known as the Langar in Gurdwara, where a free meal is served to all the visitors, without distinction of religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity. The free meal is always vegetarian. Two of my favourite vegetarian recipes are Quick Tarka Dal and Quick Spinach and Potatoes.
What dishes would you suggest operators create to serve for National Curry Week (7-13 October)?
First of all it’s important for outlets to gain some fundamental understanding of the spices which Indian cuisine has to offer. It’s like anything, knowledge equals power. You can’t second guess anymore, as customers are getting continually more knowledgeable and they want the real deal. My pulled lamb dish is a great dish to serve as it delivers an amazing flavour. Marinated and stored in the fridge overnight, it’s brought up to room temperature the next day then placed into the oven on a slow cook, meaning that you can make other dishes in the meantime. It can also be made using chicken, although cooked for less time obviously.
How can a smaller outlet, such as a snack bar or cafe, serve authentic Indian food?
In the winter months a combo of one pot dishes like rice and lentils would work in a small outlet. Mumbai Frankie rolls (a hot wrap) are a very popular Indian street food, which would be great in cafes. They are made with marinated meat or poultry, vegetarians can have chunks of paneer and there are vegan options too – stuffed in a crispy flatbread called paratha, with delicious chutneys like mint and coriander and tamarind.
Is authentic, Indian food difficult or time consuming to create from scratch?
Indian cuisine is no more difficult than French or Italian cuisine, or any other cuisine for that matter. The key is to gain real knowledge and understanding of a cuisine. Knowledge underpins everything in life and this very much applies to learning to cook new cuisines.
You have over 9,000 followers on Instagram. Is social media an important and crucial platform for chefs?
I feel very lucky to have so many loyal and unwavering followers. Social media is not about the number of followers that you have, it’s the engagement and common interest which can make social media powerful. I would definitely encourage chefs to consider devoting a chunk of time to their social media; it’s been very good for me.