I Went to the British Kebab Awards

There were loads of young Tories there for some reason.

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Jan 28 2014, 7:00am

Think of the British Kebab Awards and you probably picture a room full of Superdry T-shirts, strip-lights and revolving brown meat. But that's because you've never been to the British Kebab Awards before, and – like pretty much every other person in Britain – your principle experience of kebabs involves inhaling sinewy bits of mystery meat while listening to pissed people shout at each other.

This is not that. Instead, the awards are a celebration of the UK's many kebab shops – which apparently bring £2.2 billion to Britain's economy every year – founded by the Centre for Turkey Studies and held in a plush building in Mayfair.  

This is that plush building: the Park Lane Hotel, which isn’t on Park Lane at all, but is just as fancy as you’d expect. It's one of those places that makes you feel like a bad human being for not owning a nice car or a servant, and where the lighting makes everything look like dusk all the time, no matter what hour of day it is.

I walked down to the ballroom, where hundreds of people in black ties were mingling.

Weirdly, aside from a couple of people who were up for awards for their Turkish restaurants, most of the attendees were MPs and people who dream of one day becoming MPs talking about the contributions Turkish communities had made to their constituencies. I don't doubt that the Turkish community is a valuable asset to the economy of Southgate, but I do doubt that any of these people have ever paid less than £10 for a kebab.

And considering that, from what I can tell, all the nominations are made by MPs and the assistants of MPs, the whole event began to seem a bit patronising – more of a networking opportunity for political aides than a genuine celebration of Turkish food and culture.    

On the left here is Tracey, chair of the Lewisham Deptford Conservatives. She gave me this soundbite about the importance of the vibrant Turkish community in south London: "They make a really important contribution to our local community and I want to recognise and celebrate that tonight, so that's why I'm here. I’m hoping for lots of nice Turkish foods. I recently had a holiday in Turkey, so some kebabs, desserts, yoghurts, cheeses... There’s a very diverse menu within Turkey – their seafood is particularly good." 

Her friends are Peter and Andre, vice chair of The Society of Young Freeman of the City of London and a political advisor for the Conservatives, respectively. When I pointed out that the event felt a bit incongruous, Andre insisted, "I am that person who’s in the kebab shop at 3 o’clock on a Saturday morning." He also mentioned the kebab being "a great British tradition" and a "food that transcends boundaries". 

I'm not sure what he meant by that. But everything he said sounded like the kind of thing political PR gurus instil in young MPs. I moved on, still chuckling about the "Peter" and "Andre" thing.

Next I spoke to this family. The dad runs Mangal 2 in Dalston, which was up for best chef and best restaurant, and should have also been up for best kebab shop Twitter feed.  

There were lots of people milling around wearing jewellery similar to this. On the left here is Evett Hopley, the Mayor of Croydon. In retrospect, I understand why she didn't seem to like me asking her about her Mayoral bling. But she dutifully gave me another "vibrant community" soundbite anyway.

I'm now pretty certain that the word "vibrant community" can be safely filed away in the Oxford PR Dictionary, somewhere between "regrettable mistake" and "human error", as a phrase that has suffered a complete death of meaning. Sort of like how Umberto Eco called a book The Name of the Rose once.

It was then time for the main event: the dinner and the prize-giving. I was originally seated at a table very close to the stage beside a Lord and Lady, but it seemed there had been some mixup and I soon found myself moved to the back, next to a photographer from a Turkish-language newspaper. There were noticeably fewer spoon options.

It was then that the food was presented to us on gilded, multi-tiered Lazy Susans. I don't know a huge amount about Turkish cuisine, but I don't think that masalas and naan breads are a staple. I guess on some level it would have been remiss to serve those few Turkish people who were there an inferior version of what they spend 12 hours a day slaving over in ridiculously hot kitchens. Still, it did seem slightly weird that The Centre for Turkey Studies had neglected to order in any Turkish food for their celebration of Turkish food.

I then met Med Bukey, who told me his back story of being conceived above the UK’s first kebab shop, which his parents owned. He was sincere while telling me about his mum and dad, but soon started reading out his latest tweet – "Will @LadyGaga give an award at the #BritishKebabAwards dressed in Doner Kebab slices & pitta bread?" – before telling me: "I’m kind of being very sarcastic about this all."

After that, things started to wind down and I stopped pretending to take notes on who won because this is 2014 and there’s a list on the BKA’s website.

So, what did I learn? Well, mainly just that there's a real lack of diversity in the names of Turkish restaurants. How many "Best Kebab"s can there really be in the UK?

Follow Suzie on Twitter: @_suziemccracken

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