Friday 17 November 2017

Waking hours with chef Raman Patel Jr

Raman Patel (41) is the son of an Irish mother and an Indian father. Born in Dublin, he learned about spices from his father, and launched Patel's One-der Blend, his own food business. He lives in Castleknock with his wife, Carol-Anne, and their daughter, Amelia

Passionate about spices: Raman Patel
Passionate about spices: Raman Patel

Emily Hourican

My day starts at about 6am. I get woken up by the most beautiful alarm clock in the world, my 18-month-old daughter Amelia. Mornings and evenings are the only time I get to spend with her, so I make sure those two times are sacred. I take her in my arms and the first thing she says is: 'Hi, Lady.' Lady is my 11-year-old Labrador retriever.

We make our way downstairs and get Amelia a bottle, then, at around 6.30am, Amelia and Lady and I head out for a walk while Carol-Anne sleeps. We live in Castleknock, just near the Phoenix Park, and will usually walk for 45 minutes. It's a lovely way to start the day. I don't bring my phone, because this is downtime, time with Amelia. And the walk gives me a chance to think about the day ahead.

Once home, I make coffee and bring it up to Carol-Anne. Then I have a quick coffee myself, and breakfast - muesli, porridge, maybe cereal; I don't eat a huge amount in the morning. Carol-Anne gets Amelia ready to go to the childminder, who lives two doors up, and I go up my office, in the converted attic.

I decided to leave the industry I was in - financial services - a couple of years ago, around the same time as we had Amelia. It was an industry I fell into, really. After school - the CUS on Leeson Street - I did a diploma in marketing, then got a temporary job in mortgages with Bank of Ireland, and stayed. The industry was good to me, but now that I'm doing the food business, I realise how little I actually enjoyed it.

I got made redundant - as so many people in that industry did - and suddenly everything seemed to come together. I had already started this business and I was double-jobbing, but something had to give. My wife was saying, 'Come on, do it!' We'd just had a child, so it wasn't the ideal time to be starting a business; in fact, most people thought it was the worst time, but Carol-Anne said, 'Go for it, I'm right behind you'. I needed that. Once you have a child, you have a massive sense of responsibility. Without Carol's push, I couldn't have taken such a risk.

I did it because I believe you only get one shot at the title. I'm 41 now, so it was then or never, I believed. Also, I had an idea I was passionate about, Patel's One-der Blend. It's a versatile spice mix, the basis of many Indian recipes, everything from a korma to a rogan josh. Once you have the base, you simply add basic cupboard essentials - tomato, cream or stock, for example - depending on the dish you want to create.

The blend was created in homage to my father, also called Raman, who is from Surat in India, just north of Mumbai. He came over here when he was 16, to study medicine. The plan was that he would go back once he had finished his studies, bringing his knowledge with him. But he met my blonde-haired, blue-eyed mother, and he stayed. Neither of their families was happy with the marriage, and I am massively proud of both my parents for doing what they did. It was very brave.

My dad practised as a doctor - he was consultant psychiatrist at St Patrick's - but he never forgot his heritage, and every weekend he would cook a curry. At the time you could hardly buy olive oil here, let alone spices, but he managed, and I loved to help him. I developed a really keen interest in seeing how he was using the spices. I noticed that he used one basic blend to create all his curries, then added different ingredients depending on what he was making, and that is what I have replicated.

There is a big move back to scratch cooking at the moment, because people want to know what's going into their food. They also want to know it's healthy and fresh, so One-der Blend is catching a lot of trends, as well as making Indian food accessible to people who might otherwise be daunted.

Through my local enterprise office, I got into the Bord Bia and SuperValu Food Academy programme, which was amazing. I got so much mentoring. Because of that, we have now reached a stage where the hard work is paying off. Six months ago, I was still wondering, 'God, what am I doing . . .' Now, we're stocked in SuperValu stores across the country, and ready to launch an app with hundreds of recipes.

If I'm not working from the office, I would be going round to all the different stores, meeting managers and customers, doing tastings. We've no brand power, we're not Coca-Cola, so we're scrapping, big-time, to make any impact, but we're getting there.

Unless I'm away, I try to make sure I'm home for 6pm, to get back to Amelia. Once I'm home, the whole family would usually go out again. We might put a chicken and some vegetables in the oven, and head out for a bit of fresh air. Then we come home and eat together, because we're learning that if we don't eat with Amelia, she won't eat.

Carol-Anne and I might work for another hour or so after Amelia has gone to bed, but we also make sure we have some time together, to ourselves. We need that to catch up and unwind. Sometimes I play football or tip rugby in the evening, if I can fit it in, or I go out with the lads. I try and get a good, healthy balance. I work Saturdays, so Sunday is the precious day, a family day. We might head out to Howth with the dog for fresh air, a walk and some food.

Bedtime seems to get earlier and earlier. At the moment it's around 10pm. Carol-Anne falls asleep immediately, but it takes me an hour or so to drop off and I'd often wake up once or twice in the night. I'm a very light sleeper.

I really believe you only get one shot at this life, and you've got to make the most of it. Everything I do is for my child and my family. I want us to enjoy every day and not worry about things; to live life to the fullest, healthiest and best that we can. I want Amelia to grow up knowing that life is there to be lived.

Sunday Independent

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