Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking supperclub business is an easy way to get rich. It’s not, and you won’t. No matter how smooth the service and sublime the chef’s khana, it’s all maya. Much like a duck gliding serenely across a calm pond, there’s some pretty furious paddling going on behind the scenes to keep things afloat.
So why, then, do so many foolhardy folks put themselves through the endless planning and shopping; the hassle of rallying up a full house; the chaos of coping with ill-equipped foreign kitchens; the burns, cuts and scrapes that are the inevitable battle scars of turning out a super supper?
Simple – the love of good food, the desire to share the secrets of their kitchen with others, and the addictive rush of sending home yet another roomful of full-bellied, beaming diners. For Nilanjani Pai, the latter is now a regular occurrence, and in East London, the somewhat meaningless catch-all exclamation, ‘that was a Damn Good Curry’ has taken on a whole new meaning.
Whatever your views on the divisive term, it’s undeniable that ‘curry’ gives Brits a common reference term, encompassing pretty much all things saucy, most frequently featuring plenty of spice. For Nel, naming her supperclub ‘Damn Good Curry’ was less a political statement than a tongue-in-cheek manoeuvre – typical of the feisty lass’ forthright humour.
Say ‘Damn Good Curry’ to most Londoners, and they reckon they know what they’re getting. What they don’t realise, however, is just how damn good it’s going to be – or how much Nel’s supperclub will challenge their ideas about, and existing experiences of, Indian food. The name might get them booking once, but it’s the grub that keeps them coming back – always waddling out wide of both belly and eye.
And this time round, Nel decided that eating a Damn Good Curry was the perfect way to help those who rarely get the chance to do so – or, in fact, eat anything much at all. ‘A Touch of Spice’ was part of Action Against Hunger’s ‘SupperHeroes’ campaign; using supperclubs as an opportunity to raise money and awareness for the cause.
By now, you must have realised that I love being Damn Good Curry’s front-of-house. No matter how I wax lyrical, though, I can’t quite vocalise quite how blooming much. Nel refers to team DGC as a family, and that’s just how it feels; whether we’re furiously filling kettles for boiling rice, rounding up geographically-challenged guests, or chewing our fingernails to the quick awaiting goody bag swag.
For the Action Against Hunger evening, the latter was our challenge. All else was golden; a good few lovely folks were kind enough to furnish us with some incredible edibles to both treat our guests and slyly encourage even more generous donations, super-snapper Ming Tang Evans was waiting in the wings to capture the night with his trusty SLR… but something was missing.
Gift bags had been laid out, with a full assembly line all ready to grind into action. The Royal Mail had zoomed a box of Curry Cuisine’s scrumptious Chutnees from Yorkshire to the big smoke; Aneesh Popat had handed over a whole heap of cocoa-creativity from ‘The Chocolatier’ at the Halal Food Festival; a certain restaurant had swiftly ‘Dishoom-ed’ free breakfast vouchers our way.
I’d ridden out a sugar rush to complete my chocolate-coated besan laddoos, and my Dad (increasingly Nel’s sort-of surrogate pa!) had cut, painted, and hand-decorated a procession of elephant badges. In short, we were good to go. Bar the Green Saffron masalas haplessly misdirected and making their merry way round the Emerald Isle in the back of a delivery truck. Lovely Arun and Olive Kapil rapidly dispatched a replacement – but would it reach in time?
Well, yes. And in just enough time that the sublime Green Saffron spices which had my stomach rumbling as soon as I got a whiff were pressed into service where they could really shine; Nel’s simple, simply stunning homemade paneer bhurji, and her unconventional rose and cardamom cupcakes – the latter’s frosting imbued with green cardamom seeds so fresh they were almost juicy.
Panic over? Mostly. But with supperclubs the stress aint over til the fat lady sings, or in this case, until the landlord of The Warrant Officer – pub we popped up in – presented Nel with a bijou box of beribboned biscuits and the dining room gave her a unanimous and rapturous round of applause. Well-earned? You could say that, and would have, too, had you eaten this Damn Good Curry.
Or, more accurately, ‘these damn good currIES’ – plural. Although Nel’s been going Goan for a while now, her food is also influenced by family links to the South, the Punjab and Maharastra – as well as a dedication to mastering authentic versions of all she can from everywhere else besides. Just like her supperclub does what it says on the tin, no-one left Nel’s Action Against Hunger dinner the slightest bit peckish.
Would you, having dived into a brimming bowl or crunchy-tangy-soft papri chaat with the perfect chatpata taste; gobbled gram-battered dabbu mirchi bhajiya with a trio of chutneys; mopped up mutton keema with a few non-negotiable pau; lapped up ladles of Vizag chicken curry over mountains of fluffy rice; and kept chomping kala chana although you knew everyone who stood next to you later would pay for it?
Thought not. And that’s before we’re even mentioned the vegetarian options – a hearty, coconutty mixed vegetable kootu and the paneer bhurji which caused a fair few conversions to the delights of that sublime Indian cheese. Somehow, these fellows found room to demolish those cupcakes, too, and then dug deep in return for their smashing supper to help smash world hunger.
More people aware of the ‘SupperHeroes’ initiative. More funds for Action Against Hunger. More diners delighted and enlightened by Nel’s khana. More great producers kind enough to support the supperclub and help us for a charitable cause. By all accounts, a damn good result. And absolutely, unarguably, gloriously ‘Damn Good Curry’ – whatever you should care to call it.
- All images courtesy of professional photographer Ming Tang Evans.
- For more on Action Against Hunger and to support, visit http://www.actionagainsthunger.org.uk and follow @ACF_UK
- For more on Damn Good Curry, visit damngoodcurry.com and follow @DamnGoodCurry and @NilanjaniP
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