Having grown up as a part of a restaurant that has existed for 40 years, it would be safe to say that Dipna Anand knows a thing or two about food. Being the recipient of a national award from The British Nutrition Foundation says she knows just a bit more than that. Her award for Special Inspiration at the British Curry Awards, presented by Prime Minister David Cameron, says her knowledge goes beyond assumption and that we should pay attention.
Anand is the third generation at the helm of the award-winning North Indian Punjabi family-run restaurant, The Brilliant, in West London, a notable favorite of the likes of Prince Charles and Chef Gordon Ramsey. Already backed with a lifetime of experience within the food industry at only 30 years of age, Anand has developed a deep passion for the culinary arts that she is hoping to spread to others.
“Cooking is in my blood,” Anand said. “I’ve grown up in and around the restaurant and a family of cooks because my father is the main head chef at the restaurant and a lot of my knowledge has come from watching him and also watching my mom. If I wasn’t cooking, I don’t know what I’d be doing instead.”
Beyond the day-to-day responsibilities that come with running a family restaurant, one of Anand’s main roles is devising new menu options with the chefs, always looking for healthier alternatives to tear away preconceived perceptions that Indian food in its natural state is unhealthy.
“I love experimenting and testing out new dishes,” said Anand, whose goal is to create food that is both “tasty and good for you at the same time.
“We’re adapting dishes, not slashing all the fat contents,” she continued. “My motive is not to make everything healthy, but to substitute certain ingredients to make the dish a little better for you.”
Noting the challenge of making healthier dishes, Anand added, “It’s not the fat that makes [the dishes] taste good, it’s the spices and the way you combine them that actually gives it its amazing flavor.”
A graduate from the University of West London with her master’s in Hospitality and Catering, Anand’s skill goes beyond the kitchen and now into her just released cookbook, “Beyond Brilliant,” where she hopes to spread her knowledge and love for Indian cuisine to the masses.
“My belief is there’s not only one way of making Indian food,” she said. “There are several ways of doing it, so much to learn about Indian cooking and cuisine.”
It was while studying for her master’s that Anand was approached by a professor who suggested she be the one to lecture about Indian cuisine, as both her role in her family’s restaurant and her own studies made her more than qualified to do so. From there Anand realized she could create and educate and beyond her lectures began cookery courses at the restaurant, bringing The Brilliant into modern times. The three-hour-long courses are almost always sold out and are where customers get the opportunity to learn, cook and take home the food they themselves have prepared.
“By the end of it, candidates leave saying, ‘I can’t believe I cooked that’,” Anand said. “I live to hear words like that. It motivates me and inspires me to do even better and go even further and that’s the reason I have done this book.”
The cookbook features 54 recipes, 40 of which are straight out of the restaurant’s menu. Others are a part of Anand’s award winning-repertoire and those she learned from her mother growing up.
“There’s a mixture of my recipes and the restaurant’s recipes,” she explained. “The book is telling the story of the legacy of the restaurant, the story of how The Brilliant has evolved and how I evolved.”
The Brilliant’s evolution into modern times is a direct influence of Anand and her brother Shanker, who have both worked to convince their father of needed aesthetic updates and refurbishments, with the hopes of ushering the restaurant into another 40 years of service.
“Me and my brother are quite modern in thinking and we joke that our dad is stuck in a time machine and it’s hard to get him out because he’s so used to doing things the old fashioned way,” Anand said, noting it took five years to convince their father that a refurbishment was needed. “The food is great, our service is fantastic, but people want good surroundings, nice plates, fancy cutlery. It has to be a nice atmosphere. All these key things are important.”
It is that understanding, which goes beyond the menu, that helps Anand maintain the success of her legendary establishment and cement some sort of certainty that the standards and recipes of her family will remain the fixture they’ve become for generations to come. Implementing cosmetic renovations, putting new items on the menu, hiring new chefs with specific specialties, adding healthier dining options and even the addition of cookery courses while remaining true to their family’s authentic roots and traditions is very important to Anand and is what keeps a loyal customer base.
“Moving with the times is very important,” Anand said, while stating that opening up new restaurants or adding multiple locations is not in the cards for The Brilliant, as they feel the success of their brand is the hands-on family involvement in their restaurant where it stands today. “Someone from the family will always be there. If people want to come to us, they will travel the distance to come to us, no matter where they are.”
And come they do, with a customer base ranging from royalty to Hollywood, reinforcing the fact that The Brilliant does not need to travel.
“My father wanted me to write this book for the last 10 years,” said Anand, adding that winning her award from the Prime Minister at the British Curry Awards was the extra motivation she needed to go full steam ahead. Now, having completed the book, Anand receives weekly emails, tweets and Instagram pictures of people showing her their successes with her recipes. Showing one customer’s picture of achievement to her father, Anand said her father could only say, “wow.”
“He then had somewhat of a worried look on his face,” Anand said laughing. “It’s too late now, the book’s done.”
Within its first three weeks, the book sold 500 copies, revealing family staple recipes; though it seems unlikely the Anand family has anything to worry about. Though the coveted recipes are out for the public, it is doubtful they could stay away from the family restaurant that has been a fixture to many other families all these years, especially not when Anand is there to keep the base growing.
“The response has been phenomenal, I couldn’t ever ask for better,” said Anand, who with the ever growing demand of her time has had to learn to how to cut back on her roles. Having once been lecturing at three different universities and colleges at a time, she now teaches at just one in order to keep up with her cookery classes, responsibilities at the restaurant and the promotion of her book.
“I don’t want to lose that part of me,” she said about maintaining her presence at The Brilliant, most especially on packed Friday and Saturday nights. “I love meeting the customers and giving my dad and brother a hand.”
Though she has but two hands, she finds relying on her family is integral to her success.
“It’s all a family effort,” Anand said. “My family is very supportive; it’s a collaborative effort.”
Realizing all the possibilities that may lay ahead of her, Anand sees no reason to allow a busy schedule to overwhelm or stop her any time soon.
“For me it’s a challenge. The more I have, the better and if I accomplish that challenge I will naturally only want to do more,” she said.
Setting her sights on television next, Anand is open to new avenues that will help further along her mission of debunking false perceptions of Indian cuisine and get more people cooking.
“My future ambition is to teach the nation how to cook great Indian food,” she said.
For a sneak peek at just a few of the many recipes Anand offers, check out her website at www.dipna.com and see just what you can create and feel free to let her know on Twitter @dipnaanand and @lionessmagazine.
Look inside: Beyond Brilliant Book
Click the image below for an awesome recipe courtesy of Dipna and more information on her new book, “Beyond Brilliant.”