April 26, 2010

A recipe for success

A recipe for success

Patak’s history for providing fantastic Indian sauces to spice up our menus goes way back. On her mission to introduce new recipes to the world company ambassador Anjali Pathak stops to talk with BL about how a passion for cooking inspired a product that would find itself in every cupboard.

The 28-year-old daughter of company chairman Kirit Pathak plays an influential role in the development of the family brand. As such Anjali, who currently lives in Heaton, is constantly travelling the world to promote Indian cuisine and the family business that lost the “H” to avoid incorrect pronunciation. Last month she visited Holland to hold a master class with 30 journalists who expressed a desire to cook alongside her. This is evidence in itself that Patak’s dishes are not only winning over the public, but also the attention of the media. As a pioneer of Indian food Anjali must be culturally aware – some recipes may be favoured more in one country than another – and seasonally astute. In the summer months, for example, she spearheads a campaign in England called “Indian summer” in which she tries to teach people a lighter, healthier side to Indian food. Anjali’s work in Australia stands in complete contrast. It’s winter down-under during our summer months, so she works on writing heavier recipes.

“I’ve got a lot of recipe writing to do for all the various countries,” she said. “The Indian festival Diwali is one the busiest times for us because it’s a bit like Christmas, and it falls near the end of the year. But a lot of my work for that has to be done in summer time because of the media.”

Patak’s is often considered the brand of choice because of its authenticity and the family’s heritage. Bearing this in mind it’s hard to believe that such an influential company could have started from humble beginnings. It all began in the 1950s when Anjali’s  grandfather, L.G. Pathak, came to England with his wife. They arrived in London with very little money, just £5 between them, and an insurance policy that allowed them to work in Britain. He managed to get a job as a street cleaner.

“My grandma was pretty unhappy about that,” said Anjali. “She was young but had children to raise. So she decided to try and make money doing what she did best- cooking- and sold some of her wedding gifts to buy pots and pans.”

“She started cooking for local Indian students who had heard there was some really authentic food which had arrived in Britain. The word soon spread and lots of people visited her daily, with people giving her money. She then realised she could start a business.”

Anjali’s grandparents managed to save enough money to open up a small shop behind London’s Euston Station. That’s when the business really took off. Back then it was difficult to get Indian vegetables and spices and her grandparents owned the first Indian business in the UK to start importing the necessary ingredients. The popularity of the brand went from the London streets to the ears of royalty, leading to the family being invited to cater for a garden party held by the Queen. It was a huge success and, to their delight, they were featured on the front page of The Times newspaper. With their name now out in the media they soon had a supermarket asking to stock Patak’s products on its shelves. This, along with the publicity, helped them earn enough money to open a small factory, which turned into a larger factory and the global exports began. Patak’s now operates from Leigh, near Wigan, but has five hubs around the world. It has been in Leigh for about ten years.

Anjali officially started working for the business when she was 22. She always knew she would be part of Patak’s as she grew up, but thought she would be more involved in the business side of things. As such many of her educational choices were made under the assumption she would take over from her father. She took Business Decision Analysis at university, but decided she wanted to be more involved with the family’s well-loved recipes. She wanted to be a part of the creativity and ardour that goes into the Patak’s food fusion. After working in Product Development for five years she became Brand Ambassador at 27, which gave her the opportunity to work with the food.

“I didn’t know that my life would be about being a foodie, but I’ve never been happier,” she said. “It’s my passion and my job.”

“Demystifying Indian food is the best part of my work,” she said. “There’s a short cut there by using our products, but I love teaching people how to cook from scratch. My goal in life is to teach a lot of people to do it. It makes me happy. “I want to continue creating brand new recipes and making Patak’s creative and authentic, and I really want to launch myself as an Indian chef in my own right, not just as a brand ambassador,” she said.

“I hope to inspire people to get in the kitchen in same way that I’ve been inspired to. Hopefully I can make them as happy as I am when working with food.”

As a chef, Anjali has a few tips on getting the authentic taste. First and foremost though she says it’s important to cook Indian food using fresh spices. “Spices lose their flavour very quickly,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t know that and they have spices in their cupboard which will have lasted them for years. It won’t be what you paid for and the dish will never be the same as if you cooked it on the day you bought the spice.” As a company, Patak’s always use fresh ingredients from across the globe. Although it’s not surprising that around 90 per cent of their spices and other ingredients come from India, all of which go into their various products – from canned sauces to spicy pastes and condiments.

“It’s all about convenient choices now because people have so much less time to cook,” said Anjali. “Everything that we put into the products has secret spice blends and nobody knows the secrets outside the family. We have specific ones for different products – and it always stays authentically Indian. We are always thinking of new innovative ways to get them to the public. All of our inspiration has to come from India.”

Patak’s recently launched a new range of Biryani sauces with varying heat levels and are the UK’s first range of Oven-Bake Biryani Sauces, which provide an easy short cut to this classic Indian rice dish. Alongside this are the new Easy Paste Sachets, featuring classics such as Tikka Massala, Korma and Madras. Obviously then, Patak’s is still expanding.

Surprisingly, it has not yet cracked the domestic Indian market because consumers around the sub-continent are so different to those in Britain. On the other hand in America introducing Indian food is difficult because they are not as used to the cuisine.

Here in the UK people are a lot more comfortable with spicy food, thanks in part to Patak’s. In fact, we truly believe that they have helped to pioneer Indian food and are part of the reason why Britain loves to eat curry. Anjali would like this to be the case worldwide and hopes her long-term vision for Patak’s will one day become a reality.

“My dream is to have Patak’s on every shopping list in the world,” she said. “That’s my dad’s vision too, and he’s instilled it in me. If everyone in the world had Patak’s in their homes, no matter how they used it, we’d be a very happy family.”

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