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    Tale of Indian Curry Queen ...

    Shanta Pathak’s original recipes became a brand sold in 40 countries...

    Shanta Pathak came to Britain with £5 and created a kitchen empire that transformed our eating habits, made her millions but finally tore apart her family WHEN Shanta Pathak and her husband arrived in Britain more than 50 years ago they had just £5 in their pockets.

    With a young family to support the couple, originally from the Gujarat region of India, began selling samosas and sweets from the basement of their cramped rented flat in Kentish Town, London. Shanta would toil away over the stove for up to 18 hours a day, while Laxmishanker hawked her cooking to Indian diplomats and doctors.

    Today, as the family mourns Shanta, who it has just emerged died last month at 83, their brand created on the kitchen table is internationally famous, sold in 40 countries including India. Sauces, pastes and snacks based on her original recipes are manufactured at the world’s largest curry factory, in Leigh, Lancashire. The legacy of Shanta and her husband, who died in 1997, is that they launched a culinary revolution by bringing curry to Britain.

    Yet she went to her grave with a bitter family feud never resolved and had not spoken to her two daughters for six years. It is the stuff of a Bollywood blockbuster but it could have been so different. After Shanta and her husband fled persecution in Kenya in 1956, they had to rely on her cooking for financial survival. As word of her skill spread beyond the neighbourhood their 10-year-old son Kirit made deliveries after school by Tube and bus. He says: “When we first arrived we spoke no English.

    We delivered food carrying notes from our father explaining the destination to bus drivers. They were desperate times. If I took £2 in a day I’d done well. My mother was at her happiest in the kitchen. When my father was offered a job she believed was beneath his dignity she insisted they did something meaningful. She was a powerful influence.”

    In 1958 the couple opened a shop in Euston, North London. Back then, before mass immigration, there were only a handful of Indian restaurants and their spicy food was alien to British tastes. The business grew as the Pathaks developed recipes for pickles and spice pastes that could be kept for weeks in the refrigerator with no loss of flavour, allowing customers to make curry easily at home.

    ANOTHER masterstroke was the realisation that the restaurant industry in those early days was run largely by recent immigrants who had only rudimentary cooking skills and were limited to serving dishes from their regions. They made it easy for entrepreneurs by producing ready-made sauces and chutneys. Soon control of the company was handed over to Kirit, who helped the Pathak brand become global.

    The family business moved to Lancashire in 1978 and the Pathaks bought a home in Bolton. But the rags-to-riches story was given added spice in 2004 when a dispute over ownership of the family brand ended with siblings facing each other in the courtroom and the matriarch being forced to give evidence. Shanta collapsed in the witness box as the High Court heard that her daughters, Chitralekha Mehta and Anila Shastri, claimed they had been cheated out of their share of the business.

    They alleged they had been promised about £4 million in shares which never materialised because Shanta had followed Hindu custom decreeing that only sons can inherit a family business. In court Shanta sided with Kirit, launching a scathing attack on her own daughters which left deep and long-lasting wounds.

    Giving evidence Shanta said: “I am being dragged through the courts by my own daughters who are chasing property they have no right to. This case is a wicked attempt by my two girls, who have only greed, jealousy and malice in their hearts, to get money that does not belong to them. They will send me to my grave broken-hearted because of their own dissatisfaction with their husbands and their lives.” Although a settlement was agreed, Shanta never spoke to her daughters again.

    Speaking a few weeks after her death from heart problems, Kirit says his mother was “the backbone” of their family. “Even in hospital before her death she was still giving me advice about the company,” he says. There can hardly be a person who has not used a product from Patak’s (the “h” in the family name was dropped to make the brand easier to pronounce).

    The company supplies ingredients for up to 90 per cent of Indian restaurants, while its pickles and poppadums appear on the shelves of every major supermarket. Pat Chapman, founder of the Curry Club, says Shanta Pathak was a pioneer. “I remember visiting the shop in the early Sixties,” he says. “It was a pleasure and a rarity to find good, cheap, home-cooked Indian food.

    At the time British food was quite bland and unadventurous so this was a revelation. The Pathaks helped change the tastes of the nation.” The family rows once appeared to threaten the empire which the curry queen and her husband had painstakingly built but it survived and three years ago was sold to Associated British Foods in a deal reportedly worth £105 million.

    Family links remain and today Anjali Pathak, who is brand ambassador for the company, continues the work begun in such humble surroundings by her grandmother.
    ...being a human...



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