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10 September 2012

Hardeep Singh Kohli: Hackney has some of the best food in London

HARDEEP Singh Kohli has packed a lot into his 43 years: he's a comedian, TV presenter, radio broadcaster and newspaper columnist. But his first love is most definitely food.

So great is his love of all things food-related that Hardeep is about to take to the road with his second culinary-themed live show, Indian Takeaway.
 
It sees him order a local takeaway, recommended by a member of the audience, and race against the clock to cook up a feast before it arrives, sharing recipe tips and hilarious anecdotes along the way.

But his passion for food is about to make its mark on Hackney in an altogether more serious way, with plans to open an Indian restaurant near his home in Dalston.

Speaking at his local, Cafe Oto in Ashwin Street, he says: "The food in Hackney is remarkable. We're sitting here in Dalston Junction and within half a mile in each direction is probably some of the best food you'll get in London.

"You've got Shanghai in Dalston Kingsland, one of the best dim sum restaurants in town; Peppers and Spice in Balls Pond Road, which serves excellent Caribbean food; Huong Viet on Englefield Road, which is astonishing, and Faulkner's chippy - the full complement."

Talking about his own restaurant plans, he added: "I've already got the menu sorted and I'm just working on the location now. It'll be all my own Indian recipes and I'm really excited about it; the people of Hackney know their food."

Hardeep hopes the restaurant will help him realise another of his ambitions: to encourage young people to take up cooking.

"I like the idea of setting up a community kitchen in Hackney," he says. Adding: "We've got one of the highest rates of obesity here. Nobody shows kids how to cook nowadays, if you teach people to cook they'll automatically eat better. I want to teach young kids and parents how to enjoy cooking."

Hardeep is already a familiar face with young people across the borough, thanks to his involvement in education and youth projects at the Hackney Empire. He's keen to dispel some of the negative stereotypes about young people in the borough.

He says: "I have a stereotype of black youths in Hackney: mine is that they're all really polite, really well brought up and they're really honourable. I do wonder where the rest of London gets its stereotypes from - they don't help.

"There's some incredible talent in Hackney and what I love about working with the Empire is that it's unlocking that talent. The way I see it, if you're busy in a recording studio, working on a play, or practicing stand up, you're not busy doing anything else.
 
"A lot of kids lack confidence and focus. Give them an opportunity and you unleash that. If I hadn't had opportunities I could've ended up on the wrong side, so if I can help them, I'm going to do all I can."

Indeed, it's been a busy few months for Hardeep. As well as preparing for his tour, some new projects with Radio 4, and a new book, he compered a series of events at Hackney House, the Council's pop-up exhibition and media centre to promote the borough during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

He said: "I opted out of the Edinburgh Festival this year to stay and work in Hackney. It was lovely to be a part of what was going on in the area during the Olympics.
 
"I'm so proud of East London - I'm not sure it would've been the success it's been if it was elsewhere in London. There's an energy around here that you just don't get anywhere else. It makes me proud to live in Hackney."

CV

1969    Born in London
1973    Moves to Glasgow
1987    Studies law at the University of Glasgow
1990    Joins BBC Scotland
1996    Leaves the BBC to work independently
2008    First live cooking tour, Nearly Naked
2009    Moves to Hackney
2012    Starts second culinary live show, Indian Takeaway

Hardeep Singh Kohli plans to open a Dalston restaurant

Hardeep Singh Kohli plans to open a Dalston restaurant

Hardeep Singh Kohli plans to open a Dalston restaurant

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