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2023 Be Inclusive Hospitality Spotlight Awards – get to know the finalists

Be Inclusive Hospitality Spotlight Awards. Writer of the Year Finalists (left to right) Chetna Makan, Jimi Famurewa, Gurd Loyal, Rashmi Narayan

On Monday 16 November, the Be Inclusive Hospitality Spotlight Awards returns to celebrate exceptional talent and achievement from black, Asian and ethnic minorities working in hospitality, food and drink. It is set to be a lavish affair held at the award-winning M Threadneedle Street.

The ceremony will feature individuals and businesses from across the UK who are making a significant impact in the industry, and Decanter is proud to be sponsoring the Writer of the Year category for the second time.

Ahead of the awards ceremony, we caught up with the four shortlisted writers who are in the running to receive the award.

Chetna Makan

Chetna Makan

‘I feel that we need to give equal opportunities to all. Most importantly I feel that when writing about particular cuisines or culture and food we should look for people from those backgrounds to get the real and honest feedback and information from them,’ Chetna Makan.

In the dynamic landscape of the hospitality industry, Chetna Makan brings a unique perspective rooted in personal experiences. Her journey was profoundly influenced by a moment of revelation, realising the limited understanding of Indian cuisine beyond the dishes typically found in restaurants and takeaway shops. Growing up in India, she absorbed culinary artistry from her mother and aunties, which heavily influenced the start of her journey. She believes sharing these experiences empowers her to contribute to a more inclusive representation in the hospitality industry.

For the second year in a row, Makan has earned a nomination for Writer of the Year at the Be Inclusive Hospitality Awards. Since her previous nomination, she has written her seventh cookbook- Chetna’s Indian Feasts: Everyday meals and easy entertaining; each one of her cookbooks offering a unique exploration of Indian Cuisine. When reflecting on key milestones in her career, the addition of this seventh book stands out as a significant achievement. It’s especially notable as it provides her with a powerful platform to introduce authentic Indian cuisine to a broader audience, solidifying her position as a diverse and influential voice in the food industry. “The journey hasn’t been easy, but every moment has been worth it” says Makan.

Chetna Makan’s message or advice for aspiring writers, especially those from underrepresented communities, looking to make their mark in the hospitality and food sector…
‘Know your stuff. For example just because you are Indian and can cook for your family does not mean that you understand the whole cuisine. Be prepared to be a student, learn, absorb and be ready to listen.’

Jimi Famurewa

Jimi Famurewa

Within the field of food journalism, Jimi Famurewa is seen as a prominent figure who actively promotes and embodies principles of diversity and inclusivity. He serves as a leading example in advocating for a broad representation of perspectives, cultures and backgrounds within the culinary industry. Famurewa is recognised for his efforts to ensure that all voices and experiences are acknowledged and celebrated in his work.

Famurewa shares a pivotal moment in his career that shaped his perspective:

‘Reviewing the Nigerian restaurant 805 – in 2019, when I was still at the Evening Standard‘s ES Magazine – was a pivotal moment. It’s not the sort of restaurant that I would have been confident enough to feature when I was first in the job. But the broader shift in the culture, especially in relation to black African culture, really emboldened me and I haven’t looked back. I think challenging the notion of the “correct” kind of restaurant or story covering hospitality has been a part of my work ever since. Especially because it helped shape some of the themes of my first book, Settlers.’

From southeast London with British-Nigerian heritage, Famurewa’s background brings a unique depth to his writing. He proudly acknowledges his upbringing in a non-privileged environment, offering an authentic perspective that resonates with a diverse audience. Understanding the value of representation, Famurewa vividly recalls the impact of seeing Ghanaian-British writer and editor Ekow Eshun’s name in men’s magazines and having his ‘mind blown’ that there was a black man of similar background thriving in that sort of environment. Fast-forward to the present day and now Famurewa is the one inspiring others from similar backgrounds through his columns, TV appearances and other work.

When asked what some of the critical steps the industry as a whole should take to encourage a more inclusive environment for writers and professionals from diverse backgrounds, Famurewa believes that initiatives and mentorship programmes play a critical role, providing space for emerging talent to learn and grow. The industry has room for growth in terms of inclusivity.

Jimi Famurewa’s advice for aspiring writers… 

‘Think about what you’ve got and that perhaps only you can say – related to life experience, identity, whatever – and to set it in motion in whatever way is available to you. With newsletters, blogs, social media content and more, there have never been more avenues for “writing”, even as the iceberg of mainstream media has shrunk somewhat. I judged on an awards panel earlier this year where the eventual winner in a writing category won on the strength of their cooking blogposts. Make a start and don’t be scared to ask experienced people you admire for advice or help. Particularly if they’re from a similar underrepresented community. Lots of us want to help if we can find the time.’

Gurd Loyal

Gurd Loyal

‘My aim as a writer is to amplify all diverse voices – using my own queer Indian lens to shift perspectives, shouting loudly to ensure they are heard. I see my role as that of someone that can help open doors for others who may not have the understanding of how to get started, may be ignored by the mainstream, or may just be too shy to feel their voice warrants hearing. All people have a valid story to tell, and I see my role as helping to expand the number of diverse stories that get put in the spotlight,’ Gurd Loyal.

With a dynamic career spanning renowned establishments like Harrods, Innocent Drinks and Marks & Spencer, Gurdeep ‘Gurd’ Loyal used the power of diversity and inclusion to shape his journey as a writer in the hospitality industry. As a second-generation Punjabi British-Indian, he has championed inclusivity in gender, sexual orientation and race across the industry. His cookbook, Mother Tongue, has had the most significant impact on his journey so far, it is ‘a reflection on the intersection between food and diasporic identity’ says Loyal. Aiming to empower voices to share their unique narratives on their own terms, he created the platform, MotherTongueTV.com, in order to strive to open doors for others, exemplifying the change he wants to see in the industry.

In the pursuit of a more inclusive culinary world, Gurd believes the industry needs to break free from “pigeon holing” writers of diasporic backgrounds. “White writers are given freedom to write about any culture they like, where as BIPOC voices are not. I want to see Chinese writers commissioned to write about French food. Indian writers commissioned to write about Italian food. African writers commissioned to write about British food. This will be true diversity – when all writers have opportunities to write about things they have not been given access too before”.

Gurd Loyal’s advice for aspiring writers… 

‘Be your own cheer leader. Build your own network of like-minded writers that share the same values. Champion each others achievements.’

Rashmi Narayan

Rashmi Narayan

[To encourage a more inclusive environment for writers and professionals from diverse backgrounds, the industry needs to]

‘Leave behind their own bias and be more open to new perspectives and cultures, this would be a great place to start. Every time I say I’m from India, there’s a giant assumption even now that we eat only curry and have cows scattered everywhere,” Rashmi Narayan.

Rashmi Narayan is a passionate writer with a deep interest in the travel, food and drink industries. Born in Bangalore, India, she has a background in journalism, having pursued her MA in London. Narayan’s career has been greatly influenced by a pivotal moment during her time as a student, which highlighted the need for authenticity in the industry. After visiting a restaurant for Indian food, she was left puzzled by the menu. She found out that most dishes were from Bangladesh, not India. The waiter explained to her that they did this to cater to British tastes. Saddened by this revelation, it made her see that authenticity in the hospitality industry was lacking. This moment spurred her to advocate for change and ignited her commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion in hospitality.

Narayan believes that her unique background and experiences play a vital role in enhancing diversity and inclusivity within the hospitality and food industry. She notes that while Indian cuisine and culture are represented, it predominantly focuses on North Indian traditions, which differ significantly from those of South India. Narayan acknowledges the positive shifts happening, thanks to establishments such as Dishoom and Hoppers, which are introducing diverse communities and dishes to the UK. She personally connects with these restaurants, although she has yet to come across one that specialises in the cuisine of their home state, Karnataka. Narayan is committed to sharing authentic, regional recipes from her home, such as Bisi Bele Bath (which translates to “hot lentil rice” in the Kannada language- a flavourful and spicy South Indian dish made with rice, lentils and vegetables), in magazines, offering a unique culinary experience not commonly found in India.

Rashmi Narayan’s advice for aspiring writers… 

‘Stay true to your roots. Education comes only through authenticity… I have personally learnt that no failure is fatal. There will always be a place for your story to be told… Be proud of the name you were born with. I was told to shorten my name for people here in the UK to understand it as I have faced racism nearly every year about being Indian and having a very Indian name. Though it bothered me initially, I stuck to being Rashmi Narayan as it is my identity and people can make an effort to learn and pronounce my name. I always assure them that they can ask me how to if they are unsure.’

Click here to read an article from Narayan, that has had the most significant impact on her journey so far.

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