Philippa James visits Indian Express in Preston
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 March 2014 | UPDATED: 17:39 21 October 2015
We visit an innovative online Indian takeaway with a twist
If white men can sing the blues, why can’t they be head chef in an Indian takeaway? They answer is: they can.
Jamie Palmer is the latest hot thing to come out of the kitchen. He describes himself as a ‘non-Asian, white guy’ yet his days are spent as head chef in charge of a kitchen producing Indian food, and it gets rave reviews.
After working in advertising at Bay Radio, he bought into a takeaway business in Lancaster. But he wanted to go it alone.
‘I could see the future and it looked a bit shiny, so I decided to open my own business, Indian Express, in Preston,’ he told me. ‘But it was never the plan for me to cook.’
His takeaway dream fell foul of the planning laws so he opened a licensed delivery-only service using online technology to build up a very organised, interactive, customer database. ‘It means we know exactly what our clients like.’ Indian express serves all Preston, Bamber Bridge, Walton-le-Dale, Lostock Hall and Penwortham.
Jamie feels that online ordering is the way forward, with internet orders by postcode proving very popular as well as via a mobile app. Alongside this, he heavily invested in a swish website www.indianexpress.co.uk and promotion through Facebook where glowing comments include: ‘Quality, quality, quality!’, ‘Awesome!’ and, perhaps a shade extreme, ‘I will name my first born Indian Express in honour of the greatness of this food.’
Jamie’s aim, as well as quality, is for excellent customer service which he described as vital with most orders being delivered within an hour, even at the weekends. He ensures there are plenty of delivery drivers, and business partner, Pete Kelly, chips in. Jamie has a tight-knit team and he’s not above helping to wash up when the going gets tough.
So, how did head chef Jamie learn to cook what he describes as fusion food? Well it helps that his wife, Christina, is half Indian, and she and Jamie have made trips to Goa where her mother and father taught Jamie a lot. ‘I’ve always had a keen interest in food, but my passion for cooking surfaced out of the blue,’ he said. They have two young children but Christina remains an integral part. ‘I ask her opinion on everything, she’s been with me every step of the way… I bore her with every detail.’
As Jamie made the Chicken Balti, I watched him skilfully mixing chicken pieces, onions, spices and other ingredients into a pan. ‘Look,’ he enthused ‘you cook out the spices and it’s like a flower opening up as the flavours develop.’
I asked what he had meant by his take on fusion cooking? ‘Well, it’s not authentic Indian dishes, it’s a reflection of me, a non-Asian, white guy. The Brits don’t like their chicken on the bone, they want chicken breasts, and they don’t like their dishes swimming in ghee so I don’t use a lot of oil.
‘I’ve simplified and stripped down a lot of traditional dishes while retaining authenticity of flavour. This appeals to the western palate. The first six months were slow but now, after only 18 months, Sundays are as busy as a Friday or Saturday.
‘Gaining a 5 star hygiene rating, so quickly, is something we are all very proud to have received.’
A second arm of the business is Pizza Planet which are mid-level, restaurant quality pizzas, popular with the students at UCLAN.
Gurmeet Singh, nick-named, Vinnie, the tandoori chef, and Jamie talked me through the process and my first ever naan bread was thrust against the wall of the charcoal oven.
Most Tandoor ovens now are gas–fuelled, but Jamie believes the charcoal adds to the flavour. As well as nans the meats, which come from Lancaster Meat Company because of the historical connection and their quality, are also cooked in the oven. Jamie grinned: ‘Hey, Vinnie, you’re going to be famous, now!’ Vinnie smiled back and made us all a delicious mug of Indian tea.
As I left Jamie asked if our interview would be appearing on www.lancashirelife.co.uk. When I told him it would, his eyes lit up. ‘Fantastic, so we can send the link over to relatives in Goa?’ Yes, Lancashire Life is hitting India!