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Supper club, like no other….

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Supper clubs are a growing trend throughout the UK, with London leading the way. I am not one to follow trends, but things have a way of happening. For me the journey started, when I set up Bay Leaf – Cafe – Bar – Restaurant in the Custard Factory in June 2011. Like others before me, I was seduced by the place and the potential it had, to become Birmingham’s creative hub. It felt like the place was just about to ‘happen’ with all the proposed new developments and the promise of HS2. Alas, it didn’t ‘happen’ and the seduction was the lure for many others like me, who failed. The cafe that I was replaced by has now also closed. In a recent visit, I saw that a Nigerian restaurant has opened up in another part of the building – I hope they don’t suffer the same fate. For some businesses it is an ideal location, for mine it was in the wrong part of town and I failed to make it a success. The failure, has taught me one very important lessons, “location, location, location!”

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, in a short period of time I managed to develop the Bay Leaf brand. So, I thought about how I could retain the brand. I came up with the concept of ‘Bay Leaf @ Home’. The business has three strands, supper club, cooking classes and external catering. On the closing night of the restaurant on a cold January evening, I invited my regular customers, friends and family and launched Bay Leaf @ Home.

I didn’t hit the ground running – the first few months were period of reflection and some quality time with my family. Also, it knocked my confidence in a big way – it was the first time that I had failed so emphatically and was in a lot of debt. But, with the support of friends and family I picked myself up and got on with it. It was through friends that I started to get my first jobs for external catering. I was asked by a close friend if I could organise her 50th birthday – this was a great success. I started to get a few more bookings including a bar mitzva and this spurred me on to continue.

I was supposed to host supper clubs at a friend’s house, but he let me down at the last minute. But this was a blessing in disguise. I thought about how else, I could make this work. In my ‘day’ job I am the Director for Legacy WM and the aim of the organisation is to use heritage to bring people together. By now I had developed some excellent links with St Mary’s Convent. I asked them if I could host an event at their place and they agreed. Hosting the supper clubs in historical places combined my interest of ‘heritage and food’. There’s a lesson here, “when your back is against the wall, you will find a solution”.

The first supper club was called ‘Dine in the shadow of Pugin’ on the 10th May. It started with a tour of the place and an after dinner speaker called Nick Corbett, he has written a book called ‘Palace of Westminster’. This event was such a great success and left me elated. I had managed to showcase a hidden gem, provide amazing food and start an amazing network of very interesting people. The difference with my supper club is that it is held in a historical place of interest, which starts with a tour, followed by an after dinner speaker.

The second supper club was held at Soho House and called ‘Midsummer Lunar Dinner’ on the 21st June. Like the previous one it started with a tour of Soho House, food and live music. The music was courtesy of Louise Kilbride and friends – it started with folk music and they finished with the most amazing Jazz rendition by Sonia Indigo. I was blown away by the music and event – what an evening! Just as well really, because leading up to it at 5pm, I said to myself “I will never do another one because of all the hard work involved”. But lessons have been learned. The key is to plan better, organise as much in advance as possible and don’t underestimate the time required to prep….One of the icing on the cake was an e-mail from one of the guests, who said that he will remember the evening for as long as he lives. I have booked the venue for another similar event.

My most recent event was held at St Nicolas’ Place on 6th Sept. What an amazing venue – a fifteen century Tudor building that literally takes your breath away. Imagine a ‘Bangladeshi banquet in Tudor house’ who would have thought of that. The evening commenced with a tour, food and an after dinner speaker. By now, I had become better at planning and organising.

Throughout, I managed to collect volunteers along the way, they came to my Bangla Master classes, and without them it would not have been possible to host the supper clubs. I would like to extend a special thanks to Andy Sparke, Jayne Surman, Priya Pandit, Carol Lyndon and Alan Farley. In addition to that, I have developed a loyal customer base who have supported be throughout, and I am truly grateful.

So, a year on and reflecting on it – I set myself a modest target in cash terms and I nearly doubled that. This has helped to pay off some of my debts. But, is it worth the effort for the money that I have made – the answer is no. But in terms of social capitol and the friends that I have made along the way, I am unable to add a value to that. So, will I continue and build on the success? Watch this space.

Heritage Trail

Heritage trail

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This is the link to BBC Midlands Today for the launch http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-22621668 – they were supposed to do a live link up, but the Stoke FC Manager Tony Pulis resigned that day, so I missed out.  Still it was great to get the publicity.

In my capacity as the Director for Legacy WM, I raised funds from the Heritage Lottery Funds (HLF) to develop a heritage trail for the Lozells and Handsworth area. http://www.legacy-wm.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10&Itemid=10  I used my contacts to get the course featured on BBC WM with Adrian Goldberg and this generated some interest and some volunteers.  I sent details of the course to Birmingham Post and Mail and they did a great piece, nearly covering the whole of page three http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/take-a-tour-of-birmingham-and-discover-the-delights-1312011?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

The Telegraph on line picked this up and they did a piece without my knowledge – well almost, I was with Councillor Waseem Zaffer when we have was speaking to the reporter and he had nothing but praise.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9865714/Walking-tours-of-deprived-areas-given-Lottery-funding.html

But they didn’t print his comments – they spoke to Khaled Mahmood MP, who said that money could have been better spent on other issues in this climate.  The Daily Telegraph contacted me and asked to interview me – I told them, that I would only be interested in a positive article, they agreed to that.  In fairness they did a balanced article on the trail. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/tourism/9867874/Birminghams-new-tourist-trail-but-will-coach-parties-want-to-visit-East-Handsworth.html  Again they interviewed Khaled Mahmood MP, who said that money could have been better spent.

I was contacted by Arshia Riaz from BBC Midlands Masala asking to be interviewed.  I agreed and asked her to invite Khaled Mahmood MP to come on air.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0157ywr  This was a heated debate and his argument was that money could have been better spent on employment.  I explained that the work that we are doing will ultimately lead to employment and further investment in the area.  The area doesn’t get great press and the hope is that this project will be the start of rebranding the area.  The likes of Brick Lane, Brixton and parts of Liverpool Docklands were not the most desirable places to live, but now it is the place to be.

I was in Handsworth Library last week and I saw Yaw there, he is one of the 20 participants on the course.  He is of African descent and a recent arrival to the UK, he is unemployed.  He told me with out prompting – ‘did you know that Birmingham had a tram line’ I was a little over whelmed with that.  I asked him, how he found this out, he said he has been doing research in the library and he now looks at every thing more deeply.  If nothing else happens, it appears that I have inspired one person to a journey of learning.  The remaining participants are equally enthusiastic.

In reflection, all the media attention has helped to get volunteers to join the course, which is what I set out to do.  Yaw is only one of 20 enthusiastic volunteers, some of whom are unemployed, employed, students and retired – but they all have a great passion for the area, which they want to share with others.

I don’t disagree that there are issues of unemployment, mental health cuts to benefits etc.  But, our organisation was set up to use heritage to bring people together and that is what we are doing.  As the local MP what measures, is he taking to address these issues?

Simon Baddeley has blogged about the trail – follow the link below: http://democracystreet.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/handsworth-park-history-tour.html

See comments from Rod Ling – I feel very inspired and encouraged by his comments.

Just wanted to email you to encourage you with the Heritage work that I have been reading about. There aren’t many people that I know who are trying to make one narrative from the multicultural and ‘traditional’ heritage of neighbourhoods like Handsworth and Lozells. This is important if (particularly, young) people are to develop an identity that links the ‘long’ and ‘more recent’ histories.


As for the local MP – perhaps he is failing to see the potential, especially for young people, in what you are doing. 
Ground-breaking work is always hard.

Do you know who this is?

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Bhabi’s Haash Bhuna

Bhabi’s Haash Bhuna

Growing up in Bangladesh, I recall how my mum used to keep ducks (Haash) alongside chickens.  The main purpose of the ducks was to provide fresh eggs for the family.  On the rare occasion we would cook and eat the duck.  The one duck would make at least two dishes, one would be with the skin and bones cooked with seasonal vegetables.  The other dish would be the bhuna and this is one of my favourites!  On my visit to London for a weekend to my bhabi’s (sister in law) house, I took a duck with me for her to cook in a traditional style.  She is known for her culinary skills, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to learn as well.

Ingredients

  • A medium sized duck
  • 1 tbsp of oil
  • Large thumb of ginger
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 cardamoms
  • 2 onions
  • 2 sticks of cassia bark
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • 1.5 tsp of paprika
  • 1.5 tsp of chilli powder
  • 1.5 tsp of paprika
  • 1 tsp of turmeric
  • 1 tsp of cumin powder

I have purchased the duck from a halal butchers, but it can be bought from any main supermarket.  The duck needs to be cut into small pieces, but you can leave the thigh and leg in tact with the skin on.  Remove the skin from all the other meat if preferred.  Peel the ginger and garlic and crush into a paste.  Peel the onions and cut into small pieces.

Heat the pan on a medium gas and add the oil, once heated add the star anise, cardamoms, cassia bark, bay leaves and allow them to temper.  Then add the garlic and ginger, once brown add the duck, onions along with the salt and stir in keeping it at a medium heat.  Put the lid on and allow the duck and spices to cook.  Once the duck releases it water, then add the remaining spices and lower the heat and allow it to cook slowly.  The slower the better as this will absorb all the spices.  This will also depend on the maturity of the duck as young tender one will cook faster.  Traditionally duck is eaten with sticky (glutinous) rice.  The image below is with sticky rice.

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Another light has been dimmed – Jan Bhai RIP

I set myself a goal at the age of 19, it was a simple goal ‘to help’.  I was like the many people of my era who had arrived to the UK in the mid seventies at the age of six with my parents.  I lived in Lozells and my life was similar to my Bangladeshi peers, simply getting through school with no real expectations from my family or the school to do well.  Like most of my peers, my career path was mapped out for me, it was simple ‘if you spoke English, you would be a waiter and if didn’t you would become a chef’.  With that in mind, I started to work in a restaurant at the age of 15 on a part time basis.  As expected I left school with no qualifications and after a year of college trying to be a mechanic – which I didn’t really enjoy.  Destiny called out to me and I was working full time along with my peers in restaurants throughout the UK, I got as far as Jersey.  This was a great experience and a real transition to adult hood, where I was able to contribute to the family financially.  But, there was a drawback, I didn’t like the way that I was treated, so I left the industry and gained a job working for Curry’s Electrical store.

It was at this point that I commenced voluntary work at the Lozells Recreation Centre and chose my life goal ‘to help’.  I wanted to help other young people in my position to better themselves as I realised that there was gulf between our parent’s expectations and our reality – they grew up in a different time and place and we were growing up in modern Britain.  Whilst, we faced issues of racism and inequality, we were also trying develop our own unique culture that straddled being Bangladeshi and British at the same time.  Whilst this was a new phenomenon for us, on a relatively small scale, this was played out on a much larger scale in East London with Bangladeshi people being terrorised by racists’ thugs.  This defined and united the community as they fought back physically and politically.  It was during that period that Jan Alam emerged as young activists who later become the Deputy Leader of Tower Hamlets.

For my part, I continued to work in the community and became a reputable youth worker in the city.  I was drawn to the many political meetings hosted by our self nominated ‘community leaders’ and whilst I applause their efforts, I was also embarrassed at the same time, as many of them were unable to string a sentence together in English.  I felt misrepresented by them, in particular when it came to youth issues.  I decided that we needed to do something to address this issue as young people ourselves.  So, in early 1994, I gathered a group of friends of and went about establishing the Bangladeshi Youth Forum (BYF).  It was during this period that I met Johur Uddin and we shared our frustrations about the poor leadership of our community.  He said that I should meet Jan Alam, who is an amazing public speaker and campaigner.  We went to a meeting that he addressed, and I was blown away – he delivered his speech with passion, emotion and was uncompromising. 

He delivered speeches in a fashion that I would only dream of.  After the meeting, we met him and spoke with him.  To my surprise I found him to be really down to earth and very supportive.  We asked if he would help us to develop BYF and he agreed without any hesitation.  We used to meet bi-weekly when he would attend and offer advice, support and guidance in a manner that was empowering – he gave us courage and helped to develop strategies to take on the local authorities.  He soon became a mentor to me, taking me under his wings, teaching me little tricks along the way.  I credit my public speaking to him, for he was there when I was practising my speech at the Council House, he said to me ‘Aftab – haven’t you eaten today, speak louder’.  Two weeks, later I delivered my maiden speech to 200 people, with style and passion thanks to Jan.  I have gone on to deliver a great many speeches with much larger audiences – I have not forgotten what he has taught me. 

I knew that Jan was in hospital during the summer months and had planned to visit him, but never managed to find the time.  Johur called me and told me that he had passed away.  I was very upset to hear the news – another shining light has been dimmed.

I went to his funeral with a very heavy heart, but my mood was lightened when I heard so many people speak so highly of him.  For me Jan was a fighter, he fought against the odds and punched above his weight.  He believed in equality and would fight against injustice to his own detriment.  Jan was selfless in his acts and didn’t ask for anything in return.  I remain indebted to him for taking me under his wings and teaching me a trick or two – I am one of his many legacies – I hope I can make him proud.  Rest in peace ‘Jan Bhai’ you will not be forgotten.

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Aftab Rahman

Aftab Rahman

Me looking cool………

From Cultivation to Consumption

EVALUATION 19th July 2012

This project demonstrates that £200.00 goes along way with a lot of good will and support.  I met Simon last year as part of the Lozells, East Handsworth and Birchfield Community Trust and we had a brief discussion about each of our areas of work and he told me that he was involved in the Victoria Jubilee Allotments (VGA).  I said that I would love to come and cook with some of the food grown and we left it at that.  When the environmental grant was advertised, we submitted a joint application and were successful in obtaining £200.00 for two cooking events with growers and young people from the Bangladeshi Youth Forum (BYF).  The aim is to show young people, how food is grown and discussing the dangers of eating regular ‘fast food’.

Posters were done, to invite people from the allotment and the community.  There has been poor weather leading up to the event, so we approached with some caution.  We set up a gazebo and hoped that we would get 15 people or so.  As it happened on the day we had 32 people register.  The event got off to a slow start, with people arriving late and then we asked the plot holders to give us some fresh produce and every one we spoke to kindly donated.  The young people arrived from BYF and they showed a lot of interest in gathering the food.

One of the guests that Simon invited was Emma Vaughn from Sheffield University who is doing a Masters dissertation on local food being grown with an emphasis on allotments and the reasons for this.  She used the event to conduct research and followed up further interviews over the weekend.

Once the fresh produce was collected, it was cleaned and cut by young people who showed a great deal of enthusiasm.  The rain came and people gathered under the gazebo and the club house.  The learning of food preparation was very informal with people asking about what went it and the spices used.  We had met a man who was interested in having a plot a few days ago and he said that he would come and help in preparing the pakora’s.  He bought with him his own equipment and made the most amazing pakora’s that were eaten as soon as they were fried.  The main course was vegetable curry, pilau rice, chapattis and salad.  Making the chapattis was great fun, as people had attempts at rolling the chapattis out.  The food was amazing and every one really enjoyed it.  There was an amazing buzz about the place and great community spirit with different people working together.  The 32 people that were present reflected the community with young and old.

In regards to evaluation forms, 14 were completed and they were all positive.  In regards to suggestions, people said that there should have been more notice, another gazebo, sunshine and that the next event should be done on a Sunday afternoon.  There should have been a more structured programme with how food is grown and the cooking could have been explained better.  There was also a suggestion that there should have been some chicken on offer.  Some of the allotment holders said that they would be happy to put on a BBQ for the next event.

A press release was done and Central TV had showed interest, however, breaking news meant that they did not cover the event.  BBC WM Midlands Masala covered the event on the 29th July with a young person from BYF and Aftab.

In regards to the next event, we should hold it on a Sunday afternoon and it should be a more structured programme.  Perhaps VGA could hold a small competition with the produce from the plot holders.  A further planning meeting will be held with Legacy WM, VGA and BYF about how we can take the next event forward.

Prepared by Aftab Rahman – Director – Legacy WM

The image below sums it all up.ImageImageImageImage