London: Like father, like daughter. Jade Nina Sarkhel, daughter of the late Udit Sarkhel, who was considered arguably the best Bengali chef in the UK, has excelled in a hard fought food photography competition that attracted 40,000 entries from 60 countries.
“I realised the other day that I am so driven in this career path because I am still trying to find ways to reconnect with dad,” Jade, who has won first prize in the “Food for sale” category with her photograph of the Rex Bakery in Mumbai, told The Telegraph on Thursday.
“Photography can be an incredibly powerful form of storytelling,” she added. “It can capture emotions, trigger curiosity and challenge how we see things.
“For me, I wanted to convey how important the role of food plays in India, knitting families and the wider community together as opposed to just a functional energy source which is more common nowadays especially in the western world.”
She said of her winning entry: “Straddling a gutter, I captured the bullet-stricken walls of one of Mumbai’s oldest bakeries. The bakery churns out 18,000 paos a day, operating 24/7 selling bread through the keyhole counter overnight. Bread is given for free to those who can’t afford it.”
Jade, who lives in London, has been to Calcutta to try to discover what inspired her father who died suddenly in 2012, aged 53, while on a visit to the city.
Udit had started a restaurant, Calcutta Notebook, in south London, and co-authored a book, Calcutta Kitchen, with Simon Parkes of the BBC Food Programme, who said after his friend’s death: “No one did more than Udit to promote the true taste of Bengali food in Britain. He knew exactly how to set its subtleties in context against the more widespread and less refined Punjabi cooking found mostly in the UK.”
For some reason, Indians and Bangladeshis have shown a remarkable talent for food photography, now considered an art form in the west.
In a worldwide competition, sponsored by “Pink Lady”, a well known brand of apple, Debdatta Chakraborty, from Calcutta, won “Bring home the harvest category”, which the judges called a “magnificent shot” of fishermen casting their nets in the Silabati river which flows through the districts of Bankura and West Midnapore in Bengal.
He was handed his trophy at a function in London earlier this week by Andy Macdonald, who heads Pink Lady and who pointed out: “The competition was fierce – the standard was exceptional.
“His shot stood out from the rest in its category, however, for the way in which he made the subject matter so fascinating and unusual.”
Hostess for the evening at the Mall Galleries in London was the celebrity TV presenter and chef Prue Leith.
Debdatta explained afterwards: “Silabati is a perennial river, only getting inundated when water is released from the nearby dam in Medinipur. Villagers were trying their luck for their silver catch on one such occasion.”
The overall prize, worth £5,000, went to Noor Ahmed Gelal, from Bangladesh, who also won the “Praying with Food” category.
He said of his photograph: “A section of the Hindu community is preparing to break the day-long fast in one of the local temples at Swamibag in Dhaka.”
Another photographer from Bangladesh, Probal Rashid, said after winning the “Food for Life Category” that he had photographed Lokman Miah, 30, a fisherman cooking on his boat in Bhola where “the location makes them vulnerable to riverbank erosion”.
Asked whether photography is now really an art form, Catherine Shaw said on behalf of the organisers: “We firmly believe so. Food is the ‘stuff of life’, all human beings need and deserve nutritious, tasty food. The categories demand much more than just pretty pictures of food on a plate. They seek images that document how food is grown, produced, prepared, cooked, served and shared all around the world and entrants find some truly creative and artist ways to capture this.”