The UK's love of curry has seen it surpass fish and chips as the national dish.
18 January 2012
UK immigration restrictions take their toll on Britain's national dish
Curry has replaced fish and chips as our national dish but due to new UK immigration limits on foreign chefs, the industry faces its toughest test yet.
According to the owner of renowned Indian restaurant Le Raj and founder of the British Curry Awards, Enam Ali, the inability to a secure a UK visa for foreign skilled curry chefs has put the industry in jeopardy.
Britain's love of curry began tentatively at the start of the 19th century when the first Indian restaurant opened its doors to a population raised on bland meats and plain breads. The cuisine's rich and aromatic spices have continued to grow in popularity until today, when the UK is one of the only places in the world where you can buy chicken tikka flavoured crisps. As Mr Ali puts it, "curry may have been born in India, but it was made in Britain".
As part of the new restrictions introduced by the government in March 2011, only the top 5% of skilled chefs may be allowed in to the country; a position which requires a minimum salary of over £28,000 a year.
With 10,000 Indian restaurants in the UK and the effects of the recession still being felt throughout the entire restaurant industry, few can afford to recruit foreign staff, leaving one in four chef vacancies now going unfilled.
Colleges and schools have begun offering courses in Indian cooking to try and produce home grown cooking talent but the complex and personal recipes which set some restaurants apart could mean that newly qualified chefs will not be ready to fill the skills gap for years.
"The main key player in any restaurant is the chef" said Mr Ali. "A few years ago many operated with just a single chef, but the industry has grown so much that they now need three or four to meet customer demand and it's not a job for novices."
Indian restaurants have traditionally brought in their chefs from abroad, typically Bangladesh, as they have felt that the skills and experience needed to cook the curry correctly could only be passed down through generations.
Mr Ali accepted the UK immigration restrictions were necessary as he didn't want "to bring people in who are a drain on society or who will be in competition with my own children for jobs" but that industry isn't benefitting from the government's stringent new measures "the reality is we have a skills shortage and the immigration requirements are doing more harm than good."
The UK Visa Bureau is an independent UK immigration consultancy specialising in helping people prepare for their UK Ancestry Visa application.