Chefs clash over cultural appropriation in ‘saag aloo’ saga

Two chefs have become embroiled in a “cultural appropriation” row after one promoted an “Indian” curry night featuring Sri Lankan and Pakistani recipes. 

Gizzi Erskine, the London-born television chef, sparked a backlash after promoting an event to her 200,000 Instagram followers to mark food service beginning at her new restaurant, “celebrating classic curries from all over India”.  

However, the attached menu for the evening at Love Cafe in Margate, Kent, featured a Sri Lankan beetroot and coconut curry and Tarka Dhal. It had the attached note, “we’ve stolen the recipe from Tayyabs”, of Pakistani origin.

This prompted outcry from Indian chefs led by Mallika Basu, the cookbook writer, who accused Ms Erskine of culinary cultural appropriation including “reductive” terminology and “crimes against food”. 

Ms Basu, who was born in Kolkata, India, contacted Ms Erskine to point out the discrepancy. 

It prompted the Ms Erskine, who has featured on ITV’s This Morning and Channel 4, to change the advert’s wording from “India” to “Indian/Asian continent” curries.

This drew further criticism online as Ms Basu, who has featured on Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel, wrote a widely shared Twitter thread, which did not name Ms Erskine. Many social media users questioned “what the heck” the Indian/Asian continent was.

As the row escalated, Ms Erskine, 42, then edited the curry night’s advert on Instagram for a third time, this time simply to read “Asia” dishes. 

Other meals listed (pictured below) included goan pork vindaloo, described as “the real deal”, and saag aloo with pilau rice and naan bread, with recipes from her latest book Restore. 

Gizzi Erskine's new recipes for her restaurant in Margate

Ms Basu, who has had cookbooks on Indian food published with HarperCollins and Bloomsbury, said that “Indians don’t like the word curry being used to describe their food as a blanket term”, adding: “It’s not racist. It’s just stupid because all of our food isn’t curry.”

She told The Telegraph the saga was “the thin end of the wedge” when it comes to Indian food being described as authentic when it was not. While the “decolonisation of food” was crucial, she said there were many white chefs who successfully cooked and respected Indian cuisine. 

“If you’re going to commercialise a culture that is not your own, then you need to do your research. You can’t be confusing continents, countries and geography and calling things the Indian-Asian continent – it’s not even a thing,” she said.

“The issue we’ve got with cultural appropriation is about working with a culture that is not your own and then mistreating it, mishandling it and not platforming or monetising the culture you’re taking from. 

“I think this is a really important lesson because people like me from minority cultures and marginalised communities are not going to sit and watch crimes being committed against our food and the things we hold dear.”

Ms Erskine pushed back against the criticism online, condemning people “telling me I’m a white girl who’s not entitled to cook Asian food” when she “spent almost 10 years in Thailand and learnt to cook with some very famous south-east Asian chefs”. 

She added: “Stop trying to cancel people for getting a small term wrong. This whole thing is tiresome. Educate. Don’t humiliate.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *