Regulars at the Tamarind restaurant in Newport already know that the place is special – but now everyone’s in on the secret, after the owner Jila Miah won a prestigious Chef of the Year award at a glittering ceremony at the O2 Arena in November. Jila managed to beat 20 other chefs to take the South East regional title in the Bangladesh Caterers Association Awards for 2021. In total, over 60 restaurants had taken part in the contest.

The Awards were enjoying a welcome return after being disrupted by the pandemic last year, and the competing chefs got to participate in an exciting ‘live-cook off’, from which the 11 regional winners were chosen.

The Award’s night was co-hosted by Samantha Simmonds of the BBC and Gary Newbon, Sky Sports Presenter; and attended by high-profile guests, dignitaries, MPs and the media.

Everyone came together to celebrate the best of British curry – and as this year’s Awards coincided with the BCA’s Diamond Anniversary, it made them extra special. BCA has been representing the Bangladeshi curry industry in Britain since 1960.

Speaking about Jila and the rest of the regional winning chefs, the President of the BCA, Mr M.A. Munim said they represent the “excellence that is happening in Bangladeshi curry houses in the UK” and said they had been awarded for their passion, innovative fusion of flavours and blending spices, creating magnificent dishes in their kitchens.

“Now in their 15th year, our Awards showcase the best talent within our industry” he told the audience, “and these exceptional Chefs are inspiring the next generation of Bangladeshi Curry Chefs.”

Of course, on the Island, Jila’s delicious curry dishes are already the stuff of legend.

He has learned his craft slowly, starting as a trainee chef at the tender age of 16 at the Agra de Lux.

By 18 he took on the Nabab, which he successfully grew and has now had for 30 years – although it became a takeaway-only operation in 2013.

The Tamarind was launched in 2005, and has become established as a favourite go-to curry venue for regular customers from across the Island.

After the awards night, we caught up with Jila between restaurant shifts and posed a few questions:

What drives your passion for food?

If you want a good business then the food you offer must always be good. I have always wanted to be a contender in the BCA  Awards.  I’ve been to the event six times as a host but this was the first time I had been as a competitor. It was great to win the south east region which is a big area with over 300-400 Indian restaurants.

Who went with you to the awards?

My wife and kids plus a work colleague. My wife was very excited and happy for me, because of all the hard work I have done over the years. My boys were very proud of their father.

Were you surprised to win on the night?

I thought I might win but I was not sure, there were 20 other chefs who could have scooped the award for the south east, so it was nail biting at the time. When they announced it was me it was a great feeling, I had to pinch myself.

How have you coped with Covid?

During the pandemic we did a 30% discount for all NHS staff plus key workers. Even though most take-aways were closed we kept going providing meals for keyworkers. We also did a charity evening with Beaulieu House and had Mark King from Level 42 at Tamarind.

What do you think of the British offering of Indian food in 2021?

If the chef is properly trained then the British take on Indian food is acceptable – if not properly trained, then in most cases it’s a disaster!

I believe that the Indian menu as we all know it must change in 2021. The menu needs to be cut right down from 120 dishes to about 60 dishes. When I go to London and meet all the top Indian chefs they have no more than 60 dishes on their menu.

In many cases, the dishes are too large and have far too much sauce, and even the starters are too large which means that traditionally people do not have desserts.  Another reason for that is that the Indian desserts are far too sweet.

We also need to sell cocktails and mocktails – we have missed this trick for many years. It’s not all about just a Cobra and a curry! We have moved on from there.

So what can Tamarind customers expect?

You’ll have to pay a visit to Tamarind this month to see the exciting new menu that Jila has put together. The new menu will be prepared from all fresh ingredients. 

As the menu will be considerably smaller, the food quality and flavour will be even better. Prices will be slightly higher to reflect the improved quality and the fact that it’s all made from fresh ingredients.

Says Jila:  “There will be no more huge bowls of curry – our new motto will be ‘less is more’, less food with incredibly better quality and flavours.

“Now is the time for Indian food to take a leap forward in 2021 and 2022.  It’s been the same old same for many years – too many years – and I am very excited for the future!”

I was also extremely happy that the Tamarind was recently awarded five stars for Food Hygiene by the Isle of Wight Council (Environmental Health, Food Standards Agency).”