A role model for women, Justine Ali inspires the younger generation to get more engaged in upholding their legacy. As the curry industry has been metamorphosed by her family, she takes pride in it. She refers to Walter Bagehot’s saying “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do”, as she talks to Alvia Zaman Shristy from Colors.
Shooting for the Stars
Justine Ali, MA is the daughter of Enam Ali MBE, FIH, a renowned British businessman in the UK, who is the founder of several businesses that include flagship restaurant Le Raj, The British Curry Awards, ION TV, Spice Business Magazine, ION computers. He is a director of Sylhet Women’s Medical College and Hospital.
Justine Ali was born and brought up in Surrey, the United Kingdom. From a young age, she was fascinated by the media industry. Right before starting college she became fixated on the idea of becoming a producer. In 2007, at the mere age of 15, she joined forces with her father and went on to become one of the youngest producers at the time. It meant a huge deal for a then teenager Justine Ali to be associated with such a big event. She went onto complete her Master’s degree in Media, Communications and International Relations from Kingston University in Surrey. She deems herself fortunate because her parents were so supportive of her education.
Initially involved in the charity aspect, Justine Ali had successfully carried out numerous campaigns for charities alongside her father where they ended up raising over £1.2 million.
Despite not being born in Bangladesh, Justine Ali has remained close to her roots. She used to visit during every break her grandparents in Bangladesh. She fondly remembers her time spent with her late grandmother and grandmother in Sylhet. Food had been an integral part in her visits especially the delicious curry which fascinated and inspired them to bring it back and establish it in Surrey, Epsom. Justine Ali got married in 2015 and in the next two years gave birth to a daughter.
She has her two younger siblings, both brothers, Jeffrey Ali, Beng and Jahid Ali, BSc, who graduated from university in the finance sector and the IT sector and oversee their father’s businesses. Her father opened his first restaurants in 1979 and Le Raj which opened its doors to customers in 1989 in Surrey has eventually become a flagship restaurant. They became listed on the esteemed Michelin guide in 1994 and have been boastfully hosting A-list celebrities, Prime Minister and even Royalty for over three decades now. The restaurant has a unique fine dining concept and has amassed national and international accolades.
The British Curry Awards is the brain child of Enam Ali. In 2005, he founded the awards, the most spectacular awards ceremony on the British hospitality calendar. There was no representation for the curry industry at the time. Years of hard work and achievements of Bangladeshis remained unnoticed whereas other cuisines from all over the world were celebrated widely through coveted awards. Enam Ali felt that recognizing their hard work would go on to motivate them further; this acted as inspiration behind founding the show. The awards have been a massive success and are known as ‘Curry Oscars’, running successfully for 16 years now. It has been attended by glitterati of celebrities from showbiz and politics including the Prime Minister, David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
For the first time in 2020, the award was held virtually. This year’s 17th British Curry Awards will be held on November 28.
Coping during Covid-19
Many restaurants endearingly came forward to help out doctors, nurses and patients at the hospitals by providing free food. At that point the restaurants had to close down and resort to takeaway only. Millions of free meals were delivered to the NHS, care homes, food banks and other vulnerable people. This motivated the Ali family to do something to celebrate the humanitarian work and huge contribution from the curry industry in these tough times. Usually the awards are based on innovation and the restaurants’ merit. So there came a change in the concept altogether.
The show is planned a year ahead, but due to an ongoing pandemic there was a lot of uncertainty. Sitting arrangement for 1600 people by maintaining social distancing was a big hurdle. They had to opt for a new production company as well as studio. Hosting the event online proved to be a great learning opportunity. It certainly was not a piece of cake to keep reinventing every year and come up with new themes. Entertainment is not the only thing at play at these events; it’s also important to make sure guests are inspired from the show time and again.
Ali served five years as a member of the government hospitality advisory panel during former Prime Minister Tony Blair. He is still being heavily involved with the government.
The British Curry Day was launched in December 2020. Curry has now become a staple and is sold in the millions. Hence to give back to the community, curry restaurants are coming forward to donate to local charities and mosques through the initiative.
Taking reinvention, a step further
The virtual event was hosted by the very talented comedian and impressionist, globally recognized Rory Bremner. Despite the pandemic the organizers were able to bring together a host of celebrities from actresses, models and chefs and secure support from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Her Royal Majesty, The Queen.
All the political parties came together to show support of the philanthropic work done by the industry and its counterparts. The live event was broadcasted on YouTube on the December 17, 2020 and by many media platforms worldwide. The massive response and support they gained was overwhelming for Justine Ali as a producer.
Like most industries, the curry industry tends to be male-dominated. In the latest edition, women that support these restaurants behind the scene and help them thrive were highlighted. The relentless efforts of the women in raising children and at the same time helping out at the restaurants were celebrated. Dabirul Islam Choudhury OBE, a humble centenarian first generation, who had a restaurant in the 1960s in St Albans, had raised more than £420,000 to help people affected by Covid-19. His initiative surpassed expectations and went on to help across many charities including NHS UK and Bangladesh.
Numerous new generation faces have come up and are set to take over their parents’ legacies and continue to reinvent themselves. In these dire times of need, the restaurants took initiatives to help combat the problems in the community while suffering huge losses. So Justine Ali and family took it upon themselves to bring stories to mainstream not only that; they congratulated and celebrated them honorably via their platform.
Since her childhood, Justine Ali has seen her father work tirelessly being an integral part of the hospitality industry. However, she noticed not many girls go onto follow their fathers into the industry. This inspired Justine Ali to encourage other women to join forces with her and ultimately give the females more representation. She has seen an outpour of women following her footsteps. Many women have gone on to become TV chefs and restaurateurs. These women have now become influential household names.
For the future generations, Justine Ali has to say that it’s important to support their forefathers and their earnest lifeworks. Otherwise their legacy will be squandered. She believes it is vital to continue carrying forward the legacy alongside other ventures. Justine Ali feels a sense of gratification in playing a role in bringing about such a change. Curry had a very different perception in the food sector and now Curry has become a British national dish. Her family is proud that they played a vital role in gaining the Curry industry’s global recognition.
Beautiful balance between work and life
Justine Ali emphasizes the bond of family and her parents’ role in shaping her up as a well-rounded human being. She recalls how her mother encouraged her to pursue her goals and always lent a helping hand, be it on set or around the house. Growing up, her parents were empowering even in moments of self-doubt. Although her mother S Ali is a full time housewife, she contributes a great deal to the creative entertainment process behind the show. Justine Ali thinks it would be quite impossible for them to succeed at this level if such a strong support system did not exist in their household.
Over her 15 years in the industry, Justine Ali has seen it flourishing and become what it is today. She writes many features articles for Spice Business Magazine surrounding the curry industry.
Justine Ali is a family-oriented woman who values spending quality time with her loved ones. She travels with her spouse and child and loves exploring the world through her daughter’s eyes. Motherhood has given her a whole new perspective to life that she quite enjoys and beautifully balances despite all the work at hand.