Award-winning Celebrity Chef Dipna Anand grew up in and around food industry. Her grandfather started the first Brilliant restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya in the 1950s; “It was a very much family affair,” Dipna recalls.
Dipna co-owns Brilliant in Southall and is the owner of Dip in Brilliant, a Punjabi café in Fulham, next to Chelsea Football Club.
In a tête-à-tête with Restaurant India, Celebrity Chef and restaurateur Dipna Anand speaks about her entrepreneurial journey with Brilliant and her new venture Dip in Brilliant.
Brilliant’s Journey From 36-Seat to 250+ Seater Restaurant
“It’s a very daring name. With the name like Brilliant, you cannot be anything less than Brilliant,” Gordon Ramsay had said once.
My dad used to help his brothers and sisters; they all were very much involved in the restaurant business in Kenya. And then there was a political issue back in Kenya when some of the family migrated to London. They had to leave the restaurant behind. Unfortunately, during that time my grandfather had passed away. My dad, his brothers and sisters wanted to kind of continue the name and the tradition. Within a few years my dad’s brother, Kewal, found a place in Southall. We started then with a 36-seat restaurant. Within no time we started gaining recognition - lots of them had migrated from Kenya to London – as people would recognise the name and that’s how Brilliant became more popular.
We went from a 36-seat restaurant to a 250+ seater. The popularity grew organically. Today, we boast a reputation of more than 60 years of experience in the catering and hospitality industry. Of course, during that time my dad was running the restaurant in Southall. My mom would help dad in his restaurant business. She is a supercook but my dad is the main chef.
I think in the restaurant industry, it’s very important that you become a people’s person. You have to get that charisma, passion and show people that you are actually there to cater to their needs and giving them a great dining experience. Whosoever comes at Brilliant should say that they had a brilliant time at the restaurant.
Consistency and Outstanding Food Are the Keys
Chefs might change but my dad trains the new chefs on the recipes and, therefore, the recipes never change. That’s the beauty of Brilliant – outstanding food, quality is always the same, consistency is maintained.
On a typical Saturday, the footfall at Brilliant Southall is 200 and at Dip in Brilliant Fulham, it is 50.
My Fulham restaurant is a limited company and Southall one is in partnership. Till now, we didn’t get any external funding. We still consider it as an SME because we have less than 20 employees. A lot of people had asked for the franchise but we have been refusing so far. We might look about it in the future.
Dipna’s Journey as a Restaurateur
From the young age of six or seven, I remember going to the restaurant with my brother and trying to be helpful to my parents. I would ask my parents the questions related to the restaurant and that’s where my passion grew while watching them. I’m very much the people’s person.
At school, I wasn’t very good at the academic subjects. I was good at food technology and sports. I knew I need to carry on something vocational. And food is something I had a passion for. My career took off when I won a national award on one of my food technology projects – Low Fat Indian Food - presented by the British Nutrition Foundation. I had put low-fat Indian food in my restaurant’s menu as well. After winning this award, I decided to go to the University of London and do food technology in hospitality and catering. While I was doing my Masters, I was offered to teach at the University. I was teaching Indian cuisines; it’s been 13 years now. I won my second award presented by David Cameron as the Industry Personality of the Year.
“I see my failures as learning curves and I see them as a challenge. I like to reflect. With whatever I do, I reflect on what did I learn and how I could do it better. For me, failure is never a failure.”
About Dip in Brilliant
I made my dad’s dream come true with my first cookbook, Beyond Brilliant; it has the recipes of my grandfather. After my first cookbook, I launched my first cookery school in Southall in London. In between, I had also done my own TV series on B4U Music called Dip in Kitchen. It was Indian cooking with a few contemporary twists. Recently, I launched my second book called Dip in Brilliant, after I opened my second restaurant with the same name in Fulham. It has got a smaller menu as the place is very small. But I call it a trendy Punjabi Café because I want that restaurant to be something that explains me – trendy and cool.
‘Vocational Course in Cooking Should Be Made Compulsory at Schools’
In the UK, there is not enough emphasis in schools on vocational qualifications like food technology because it’s not compulsory to cook. When I go to the schools and talk to them, they are wowed by the cooking and then I do the cookery course with them. And it’s quite shocking that some of them don’t know the name of vegetables, even the simplest ones like mushrooms.
We need to educate more youngsters that there is such a profession in hospitality and catering.
‘You Can Always Tweak A Dish, But Don’t Confuse It’
We have got so many spices but a lot of people don’t know their health benefits. There are hundreds of ways to cook Punjabi food - this fact has been passed on to us from generations to generations. I don’t think fusion is wrong but when you confuse the dish, it’s the problem. You can always tweak it. For example, soya sauce into a traditional palak chicken – it’s game over! You got to know how to balance the flavours.
Pros and Cons of being in a Family Business
Our restaurant is family run; it’s me, dad and my brother. Three of us run Brilliant in Southall and Dip in Brilliant in Fulham, London and it’s fantastic. We do have sometimes disagreement like in every family business and that’s how we make decisions.
There are more advantages in a family-run business – firstly, they say teamwork is a dream work and for us it does. It’s a family affair and we are successful because of this fact. We don’t leave our restaurants for the managers to run. We run the restaurants ourselves. And for us, that is the sole reason why we are successful.
Secret Recipe to Success
A strong family bond and togetherness have made us succeed. My father is the role model. I love his autocratic management style, and I see a lot of my father in me now. He is a very strong-minded person; he knows how to get the work done. And I am following his footsteps now. That’s most definitely one of the reasons why we are successful.
Tips for Aspiring Chefs
Have confidence in the kitchen - It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to chop an onion. Nothing can stop you from learning. If you chop it wrong the first time, do it again and again, until you get it right. I teach 13-14 year olds how to roll a chapati.
Make the Use of Social Media - Let’s say someone is a home chef and is passionate about cooking. I would tell them to share on social media whatever they are cooking even if they are making an omelette, share on Facebook and Instagram.
Don’t be scared to enter the kitchen and experiment because you never know what you can come up with.
Don’t be reluctant to play with the spices. If you are missing a certain ingredient like in my biryani you might not be able to get whole coriander – leave it out and continue. Have that kind of attitude and continue.