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Interview Gabriele Gugetzer: Indian cuisine in London

Books can open up new perspectives - like the new publication by Gabriele Gugetzer. It shows culinary London from its Indian side, which is little known here on the mainland. The book is a city guide and cookbook in one. Portraits of Indian chefs stand alongside Indian recipes and addressing tips. Everything is difficult to find interesting.

Katharina: You have already published three books related to England: "Teatime - 80 delicacies" and "London Food". "Indian Cuisine in London" is your new release. Where does your passion for the island come from?

Gabriele: From my teenage years. The first class trip abroad went to London. On Carnaby Street (very popular then as now). The young Londoners flirted as hard as they could. As a 14-year-old I was deeply impressed because I went to an all-girls school. That's how it started. Music and literature soon followed.

Katharina: My experience is that the subject of food can be found everywhere in England. Which newspaper you open and which station you tune in to: recipes, jam competitions and culinary reflections are always present. Where does the enthusiasm there come from, although the reputation of English cuisine is, hm, rather moderately reputable? It's such a contrast.

Gabriele: The bad reputation of English cuisine can actually be blamed on the Germans. More precisely, World War II. The English women had to work because the men were at war, the children went to a kind of soup kitchen. After the war, the reconstruction came on a large scale, but only to Germany. Although England was a victorious power, it still had to pay off war debts to the USA until the mid-1950s. Accordingly, many foods were rationed up to that time, everything between cream and tea. One generation has simply forgotten how good food tastes, the next has not learned it. Today the subject of food is very important.

Katharina: About your book - what's the idea?

Gabriele: I wanted to write a book for travelers who already know London and show them differently. And a book for travelers who know a lot to do in London during the day, but end up in the next (i.e. mostly: bad) pizzeria in the evening because they don't know where to eat. Good and not expensive.

Katharina: What is special about the Indian restaurant scene in London?

Gabriele: Nowhere else in the world is there such a range, both in terms of regional cuisine and demands. There are Indian star restaurants, the simplest cafes and everything in between. It all started in London: the world's first Indian restaurant opened here after the First World War. In India itself, Indian cuisine is something for at home, not for the restaurant (but that's changing a bit right now).

Katharina: If you look back, how has Indian restaurant culture developed in London over the decades?

Gabriele: It started with curries, in bright red. This color should signal that it is about to get very, very sharp. The color did not come from chillies, but was plain red food coloring. The modern touch, the willingness to experiment, the use of English foods such as lamb or cod instead of goat or bream mackerel - these are what the Michelin chefs brought to Indian cuisine.

Katharina: What significance does it have for the Indian population in England that their restaurants have been awarded Michelin stars? Has that changed anything?

Gabriele: That changed a lot. Curries are indeed the favorite food of the masses, but many English did not know that there was still a lot to discover in Indian cuisine. Perhaps comparable to us Germans. We love sushi, but not so many people know that it doesn't reflect Japanese cuisine in any way. Indian cuisine is treated with a lot more respect and curiosity and chefs like Cyrus Todiwala or Atul Kochhar like Jamie & Co. regularly have their own (very entertaining) TV shows.

Katharina: You write that there is no such thing as THE Indian cuisine, but that there are many regional ones. Please tell us which of them we meet in London and how you can recognize them in each case.

Gabriele: There is actually no answer to that, because there are not necessarily restaurants that specialize in just one kitchen. It is most likely to apply to the Punjab border region between India and Pakistan (Southall): It is hearty, meat-heavy and well balanced when it comes to spiciness. My favorite Gujarat vegetarian is on Green Street. This state is strictly vegetarian. That's why they're so good at it.

Katharina: Ingredients play a crucial role when it comes to authentic cuisine. But the way between England and India is long and the climates are very different. How do Indian cooks in England lead the discussion about authenticity and tradition in terms of ingredients?

Gabriele: Anyone who was self-conscious wanted to cook with Indian products only. But that has changed, with the exception of condiments, of course. Products from Great Britain are now of very good quality, you don't have to fly anything.

Katharina: You spoke to many of the chefs at the restaurants presented. I imagine it would be extraordinary for you, too, that a German journalist would be interested in your work. How do you have to imagine the encounters? I would have loved to have been there.

Gabriele: I would have liked to have carried you around in my handbag. The first reaction was interest. Ah, Germans are interested in our kitchen, that's great. The second reaction was then undisguised amazement, especially when I said that Indian cuisine has a bad reputation in Germany as a filler for students and that there are no restaurants that can only rival the top Indian restaurants. In between I was also tested a little on my knowledge; after all, I wanted recipes, and they had to find out who to trust with their recipes. And although my publisher is one of the largest in Europe, it does not appear as a name in Great Britain. What always helped me was my photographer. Because everyone immediately wanted to see how he would come across in photos. And since my photographer Uwe Tölle is simply the best, it was a nice icebreaker.

Katharina: Which of the personalities particularly impressed you?

Gabriele: Atul Kochhar and Cyrus Todiwala. Both are firmly established in life, are passionate cooks and hosts. Both want to communicate. You are not only very well trained, but also ambitious and easy to deal with. In addition, they are both very polite and friendly. And are just as passionate about their cuisine as they are about their new hometown.

Katharina: I like a lot about the book - the combination of selected addresses, the rare portraits, the recipes. It also takes away the worry of missing out on the best of the menu, I think. If I had an evening, which restaurant should I definitely visit and what should I definitely order?

Gabriele: When money doesn't matter at all: Benares. Follow the waiter's recommendation (of course in consultation) and above all the recommendation of one of the five sommeliers. I have seldom seen such an impressive wine list.
With friends: Café Spice Namaste. The starter platter.
For an important date: Tamarind. Chicken tikka.

Katharina: Thank you very much!

Tip: There is a free app of the same name for the book for on the go.

Published in October 2013