Culinary Recognition in India

Today afternoon I was watching the repeat telecast of the NDTV Food Awards that was being hosted by the funny highwaymen Rocky and Mayur.The event was brief and classy, and had some enchanting song performances by Shafqat Amanat Ali.It was the first ever food awards being organised by NDTV (maybe it was high time as the channel has a significant number of excellent quality food shows) and awards were given away on a total of 10 categories, including Best Bar, Best Dhaba and Best Regional.

Although it was an excellent initiative on the part of the channel, I was slightly let down by the rather paltry number of award categories.Some categories like “Best Asian” and “Best European” were very broad-based and could have been classified further along the lines of Italian, French, Mediterranean,Oriental etc. cuisines.Some categories sounded incomplete, e.g “Best North Indian”, but no vis-a-vis “Best South Indian”.Similarly, the Best Regional category could have been broken further into Punjabi,Avadhi,Gujarati etc. as it’s probably not fair to compare say Bengali food with Punjabi food.With New Delhi restaurants bagging most of the nominations, it left room for doubt on the nature of restaurant coverage that was considered by the jury.

With increased curiosity, I then scoured the net for similar culinary achievement awards, but could only find the Times Food Guide and Nightlife Awards that deserved any mention.The Food Forum India awards were another noteworthy awards, but they are focussed on excellence in food retailing, in other words the business aspect of food and not the food itself.With India having such a rich culinary history and considering the rapidly expanding food business in the country, it is really appalling to see the lack of platforms for recognising culinary achievement in India.

When watching Masterchef Australia episodes on tv sometime back,  I learnt about the restaurant grading mechanism that is prevalent in Western countries ,most prominent being the Michelin Stars (Europe), Mobil (US) and Chef Hats (Australia).Once again, I couldn’t find any similar grading mechanism for Indian restaurants.Although, there are a good number of food guides published annually, these guides generally talk about everything under the sun , like the restaurant ambience,service,value for money, food quality etc. but stop short of grading. A standard, widely accepted restaurant grading scale is thus, currently lacking in the Indian food industry.

Culinary recognition initiatives by NDTV and TOI are indeed very promising starts. However, having a more comprehensive recognition and grading mechanism would go a long way in raising restaurant standards, which would ultimately also benefit the regular restaurant goer.Because as Jamie Oliver said in one of the Masterchef shows “Life is too short to eat crap“.

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