A well-known Ballater restaurant owner has triumphed in the UK-wide cooking competition that saw him finish runner-up last year.
Raj, who owns India on the Green in Ballater, travelled down to London earlier this month to compete in the Chef of the Year category of the Asian Curry Awards.
And despite being up against 70 of the best Indian chefs in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Raj was able to keep his cool through eight tensely-fought knockout stages, to be the one left standing victorious in the final.
“These sorts of competitions all come down to nerve,” explained Raj. “It doesn’t matter how good a chef you are.
“I’ve seen the most talented chefs lose under the pressure. “
He added: “Last year, my nerves failed me. They let me down in the last few minutes, where I should have taken more care.”
The Ballater restauranteur believes this experience, coupled with his specialism in using game meats, were his keys to success.
The first few stages involved working with chicken and fish, then the next few with lamb and seafood.
In the final, competitors were asked what ingredients they would like to work with, and Raj asked for rabbit for his starter and venison for his main.
He said: “I was confident that if I used game meat, which I’m used to, that I could make it show in the competition.
“The judges said I seemed very comfortable working with the meats - I said to them, this is what I work with every day at my restaurant.”
This latest award marks off a very successful year for India on the Green, which a couple of weeks ago became the first Indian restaurant to finish in the final in the Restaurant of the Year category for the Highlands & Islands Food and Drink Awards.
Raj said that of all the prizes connected with India on the Green, helping Ballater to win the Curry Lover of the Year Award is still the one that means the most to him. “Without the support of the local community, I would not be where I am today,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how good your food is, how good your restaurant is, you need the support of your local community to succeed in this business.”