When you next tuck into a meal from the Bombay Express restaurant in Torquay, remember the food was probably prepared by a national industry leader.
Although it took a while to realise his calling, Rehan Uddin has followed in the family footsteps by entering the culinary world, taking it a step further by establishing the national Asian Restaurant Owners’ Network.
Such is the growth of his organisation, Rehan spent last week flitting from the kitchen to a chat with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“I am the managing director of the Asian Restaurant Owners’ Network (ARON), covering around 1,900 restaurants across the UK,” said Rehan. “I got to ask the Prime Minister a question on a Zoom call as he was hosting a meeting on what is currently happening in the South West.
“ARON is a grassroots movement, looking to introduce new methods and strategies to an industry that hasn’t had training of that sort over the last 30 years.
“I attended a meeting in Weston-super-Mare around six years ago for the industry and I remember asking a question about contingency plans, but the response was very disappointing.
“From that moment, I just felt it was about time we adopted a different approach to representing the industry. I looked at setting up ARON around five years ago and it has all spiralled from there.
“As managing director, I run the Facebook page and produce three live videos each week, as well as liaising with restauranteurs on common issues impacting the group.
“It means that restaurants across the country are speaking as one, rather than as independent voices.
“I believe that every town in the UK has at least one Asian restaurant and, if that’s correct, we’re up to 45,000 restaurants, based on the figure of one per town. The reality is considerably more, given that we have 17 Asian restaurants in Torbay.
“Nobody really knows the exact number but those that want to change and evolve have joined together.”
In addition to running a busy restaurant and a national organisation, Rehan also has plans to introduce a pioneering training centre to the Bombay Express.
“I am in the process of adding a training centre to the Bombay Express, opening the doors for chefs and those with a passion for cooking to come in and learn, depending on how Covid rules develop,” said Rehan.
“The idea is to encourage chefs from the Asian sector to create new methods of operation and help them to transform into streamlined restaurants. It will be the first training centre in the south-west for Asian restaurants.”
Rehan’s is a story of success and dedication despite the fact his restaurant future was by no means a certainty in his younger days.
“I am born and bred in Torbay, attended White Rock Primary School and Torquay Boys’ Grammar School,” he said.
“I captained Paignton Cricket Club for many years and always proud to be involved locally.
“Growing up in Torbay and a less-populated Asian area, concentrating on an Asian genre of food has enabled me to connect with my parents. My mum is from Pakistan, my dad is from Bangladesh and my grandparents from India, so I’ve got the full breadth of influences.
“My parents have run Asian restaurants in Torbay since the mid-1980s, including Brixham, Torquay and Paignton.
“As a child, working in the culinary world was the one thing I wanted to get away from but my university lecturer said to me, when I created a short intro to a cooking programme: ‘This is some of the best work you have done and you need to realise where your passion lies’.
“It was only a few years later, after I’d worked at the BBC, I just felt it was more exciting in the restaurant trade. I like the drive, the excitement and the pleasure of serving quality food.”