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Shilpa Inc adds dash of cash to curry
- Celebrity and boyfriend to invest in food business in Britain

London/Mumbai, Aug. 22: Shilpa Shetty “can cook a mean south Indian chicken curry”, according to Andy Varma, one of the best known Indian chefs in Britain who is venturing bravely into the food business with the Bollywood actress.

Claims about her culinary skills will come as a revelation to her former adversaries on Celebrity Big Brother who, led by the late Jade Goody, ridiculed Shilpa’s attempts to roast chicken by sticking the entire bird under the grill — it apparently came out raw.

She compounded her error by trying to flush uneaten chicken soup down the lavatory where the bones got stuck, provoking Jack Tweed, Goody’s boorish boyfriend and later husband, to suggest she extract them with her teeth.

Shilpa had the last laugh, though, back in January 2007 when she emerged the winner from the reality television show with her catchphrase “Chicken curry rules!”

Her new business partners will be hoping that that is still the case. Shilpa and her entrepreneur boyfriend Raj Kundra are now turning their attention to Indian restaurants and takeaways in Britain.

In London on Monday, Shilpa and Raj will announce they are taking a “business stake” in a British food firm called V8 Gourmet where Andy is responsible for ensuring the Indian meals are authentic and for developing the group.

It is understood that the couple are acquiring a 33 per cent stake by putting £6 million into a company valued at about £20 million.The company will launch “Shilpa’s Gourmet Creations”, a range of “premium authentic gourmet meals, chutneys and pickles”.

The hard cash is most probably coming courtesy of Raj, the chief executive officer of the Dubai-based Essential General Trading LLC which he set up in 2004 and which now deals in “precious metals, construction, mining and green renewable energy projects”.

Shilpa also hopes to turn her bittersweet relationship with Goody into a money-spinner by churning out crispy appetisers.“She will begin with poppadoms in remembrance of Jade Goody,” said a close friend of the Bollywood actress.

Goody, who died of cancer earlier this year, had called the actress “Shilpa Poppadom” on Celebrity Big Brother.

In British racist lingo, poppadom — the anglicised version of papadam or papad — means an Indian.

Shilpa, 34, who later made up with her co-participant, has smartly decided to sell under the brand name “Goody Gracious Me”.

“The Shilpa-Goody association is still talked about. Shilpafelt she could give it a positive connotation after Jade’s death and turn the association into a brand with widespread appeal that will cut across race barriers,” said a friend of Shilpa and Raj.

Raj and Andy hit it off when they were thrown together in Mumbai last November during the bloody siege of the Taj Mahal hotel.

Given that Londoners have cut down on eating out and on ordering takeaways, V8 Gourmet is probably grateful for Raj’s investment at a time of recession.

Andy is best known as the chef who set up Vama, an Indian restaurant on King’s Road, Chelsea, along with his younger brother Arjun. They come from a Punjabi family, grew up in Calcutta, speak Bengali and arrived in London via Canada.

Andy has built up a reputation for his signature dal, his crisply fried lady’s fingers and his chicken kebab, all of which persuaded Richard Branson to hire him to do some of his in-flight catering on Virgin Atlantic for a period.

The comedian Rowan Atkinson (who plays “Mr Bean”), and his Indian wife, Sunita, consider Vama to be “our favourite local” and have used Andy to do the food at a New Year’s Eve party.

Bollywood regulars have commended Andy’s cooking at Vama. It offers “the best Indian food in London”, according to Saif Ali Khan, while Amitabh Bachchan, a vegetarian, has said: “When we come to London, we always order from Vama.”

Hollywood A-listers have added their endorsements. They include Brad Pitt (“incredible food”), Uma Thurman (“fantastic cuisine and service”), and Woody Allen (“I was there…best Indian!”).

The recession has taken its toll, though. Vama is now part of V8 Gourmet, a much larger group that has also absorbed the Bombay Bicycle Club, which does takeaways much appreciated by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, and Tiffinbites, a restaurant.

Winning Celebrity Big Brother has not done much for Shilpa’s Bollywood career which has now probably come to an end, though she has set up a film production company, S2 Global Productions Pvt Ltd, with herself as the chief executive officer. Her involvement in V8 Gourmet indicates her determination to expand her business interests in Britain.

“I feel proud to be associated with the V8 Gourmet group,” she said in a statement. “They spell consistency, quality and authentic Indian food. Hoping that with our partnership we grow faster and envisage a great future with a whole new line of products and restaurants all over Europe, Dubai and Jordan.”

Shilpa will probably be good at promoting pickles but Andy will be hoping she does not land him in one.

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