Ever noticed how many curry flavoured stories there are in the news?
I have. Sometimes it's a humorous nib ('Stockport lass names her baby Madras!'), other times it's the anchor in a much larger socio-political piece, like last week's Guardian article on the economy, employment and immigration. Failing them, there's always an up to date piece on the myriad health benefits of curry's core ingredients.
Week after week, the media reflects our nation's fascination in the far away flavours of the east. From Eric Pickles' proposed curry schools to the coconut milk drought, curry is never far away from the headlines. And I read every single one. Sometimes I'm even involved in it myself; either as a spokesperson or even a principal character.
Had you told me this just over a year ago, however, I'd have laughed bitterly right in your face. I'll be a curry spokesman? Yeah right. I love curries, I cook them on the regular, but I'm the editor of a blooming dance music magazine, how the hell do I get to be a curry spokesman?
Rapidly. That's how.
Last January I took a day off from the role I'd been playing in the music industry for almost a decade, visited a local businessman in response to a GumTree post and proceeded to convince him I was the man to launch a new, national food and lifestyle magazine. That man was the founder of the British Curry Club and the magazine grew from those early speculative seeds into Chaat!, the UK's only consumer curry magazine.
In the weeks that followed we discussed names (I'm still dead proud of Chaat), content, remit, logistics, design, commercial campaigns and, most importantly, budgets. We had to be acutely realistic; my leap from the music game wasn't to be a financially secure one.
I did it nonetheless...
After eight years of being a tastemaker, I handed in my notice to become a taste explorer. No matter how risky the move was, I'd felt I'd done my time in the music industry. I'd travelled the world, met some fascinating people and made some great friends. I'd also DJ'd at some of the coolest parties, festivals and clubs, regularly appeared on Radio 1 and even released a few drum & bass tunes with my annoyingly talented brother.
But I was beginning to tire of rave jet set; fortnightly flights meant missing weekends with my missus. Clubs and parties meant losing this thing called sleep which I was beginning to really enjoy. And, if I'm honest, the endless piles of music I was being sent just weren't exciting me as much as they used to. I even heard myself say 'it's not as good as it used to be.' A criminal utterance for someone who's paid to make an exciting music magazine with its finger on the pulse.
A month later I found myself sitting in a small office above a Cardiff restaurant looking at a blank screen and bare-assed budget sheet. Suddenly all those bleeps and basslines sounded like a lush lullaby. What the hell had I done? Yeah, I love curry, but can I really do this?
Was I bloody mental?
Not really. The publishing company responsible for my last magazine (iDJ RIP) sadly folded four months after I left. A lucky escape...And an incredibly rewarding challenge. I realised this by the end of that very first day; within hours of officially setting up shop a PR company called. They'd intercepted my first ever press release, liked the cut of our jib and offered us a free publicity campaign!
Wins like this were admittedly rare. My attempts at ad sales left me feeling near-suicidal. I learned celebrities are nowhere near as easy to collar for interviews as DJs. And at 60 pages there was no space for whimsy or filler; every page had to count - both commercially and with heaps of reader value.
Still, it took form quickly. In 10 weeks we'd created a unique launch title that was given away in thousands of Indian restaurants across the UK, and a good few Tesco stores too. The feedback was humbling; for once I'd created something that had mainstream appeal. Something both my parents and my friends wanted to subscribe to. We'd also attracted the attention of the UK's most passionate curry lovers; men who'd taken their hobby to such commendable levels two have books coming out this year.
Within two issues we'd attracted the attention of the national press. Our PR people landed us on page three of the News Of The World and The Wright Stuff. Meanwhile my Top Of The Poppadoms curry chart scored me numerous BBC radio interviews and found its way into papers as far away as New Zealand. Appearances on the Asian Network and an invite from Radio 2 soon followed.
And all this within six months of leaving the music world. Since then the power of Chaat has led to an invite to Delhi by the Indian government for the very first Basmati rice conference. It's even given me the clout to request a stay in the same hotel Obama and Cameron stay in when they visit the Indian capital... Where butlers are provided to their dignified guests (!)
It's also given me some fine stripes in the school of spice science (some of the recipes in the magazine are my very own), taken me to the UK's most exciting spice houses and put me in regular contact with some of the UK's most talented curry chefs such as Gurpareet Bains, Cyrus Toddiwalla, Nisha Katona, Mridula Baljekar and Dev Biswal. Each one of them a headline DJ in my newfound journalist niche.
In many ways the curry scene is identical to the DJ world; scratch the surface and you'll find the same nerdworthy discourse, talented players and passionate amateurs...Both subcultures are powered by a fandom and enthusiasm that goes way beyond the floppy title of 'hobby'. And I'm very proud to have documented both.
The latest issue of Chaat magazine is available this week! Find it here; www.britishcurryclub.co.uk/chaat
And find more from me here: www.davethejenkins.co.uk/blog
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