After months of knowing every meal served could decide a prestigious competition, most restauranters would take a well-earned sigh of relief.
But not Raj, owner and head chef of India on the Green and owner of Nu Spice in Stonehaven.
Despite being the first Indian restaurant nominated for the Highlands and Islands Food & Drinks Awards Restaurant of the Year, narrowly missing out on the top spot, and finishing side-by-side with the Michelin-starred and rosette-riddled seafood specialists that typically contend such events, Raj has to go to London to compete in an Iron Chef-style tournament, and has ambitions to get in the Michelin Guide
“The feedback we received was that this year, they had more nominations than ever, and that it was very difficult for the judges to pick a winner out of the finalists,” explained Raj.
“At the final, some people asked why I was there, because I think it surprised them that an Indian restaurant was in the final, because Indian food is so associated with being street food.
“It actually made me proud when they said it, to surprise these people - this award has been dominated by seafood restaurants since day one, so to be competing with some of the finest restaurants in the country is a huge step.”
The competition places an emphasis on an innovative approach to using local produce, and this year’s winner was the Ninth Wave Restaurant, where the menu is planned each day based on whatever the fisherman catches.
Raj said: “I think the best one won this time, but we will try and win it next year, and I’m confident this is possible. My other big ambition is to get India on the Green into the Michelin Guide.
“I feel like we’ve set the bar high for Indian food, but I want to see just how high we can go.”
But next up, later this month, Raj will compete in the Asian Chef’s Award in London, where he was the Scottish runner-up last year.